Is the food you are buying, cooking, dining out on, safe to eat?
Sep 12, 2018 09:00AM
September is National Food Safety Education month. Neighbors Magazines is partnering with Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) to share valuable and useful information with our readers that can help keep you and your family healthy through the holiday season. The information in this article is a good start. You will find much more on DuPageNeighbors.com. We will also be working with local restaurants and grocery stores, providing information that they can share with you.
There is good reason to be educated and take food safety seriously. Each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die according to estimates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Many different disease-causing germs can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections.
“Recipes rarely include any safety or disease risk information,” says Shelley Feist Executive Director of Partnership for Food Safety Education. “One of our missions is to change that.”
The Story of your Dinner is a new consumer education campaign by PFSE to support home cooks (you) in getting safe and healthy meals on the table this holiday season. Visit fightback.org/food-safety-education/the-story-of-your-dinner.
But before you start to worry too much, take comfort in the fact that the food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world. In addition to the numerous regulations already in place, recent laws like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) have given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authorities to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed.
Government agencies, groceries stores, restaurants and food producers all strive to ensure that your food is germ and bacteria free. The simple fact of life is that germs and bacteria will finds ways and places to survive. So, how can you keep your family safe from food poisoning? Shop carefully and cook mindfully.
At the grocery store: feel, touch, inspect, stay informed
There are a number of safety precautions you can take at the grocery store. The surface of fruits and melons should be largely smooth and even, with a firm, but not rock hard, surface. Pits and dents under the surface can indicate that the flesh of the fruit is slowly rotting or damaged by shipping.
The surface of vegetables should also feel consistent, evenly colored and firm all the way around. With vegetables, softness in specific areas generally indicates rotting or bruising, even if there aren’t any obvious indicators of spoilage. With leafy greens like lettuce and kale, it’s especially important to look for crisp, plump leaves that are consistently colored. And with both fruits and vegetables, trust your nose and steer clear if something doesn’t smell right.
When it comes to meats and poultry, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests shoppers confirm packaging is tightly sealed and cold to the touch. Choose packaged chicken that looks pink, not gray. And with bacon and fresh sausage, always look for the Safe Food Handling label – this label means the meat has undergone safe processing and includes handling and cooking tips. Consumers should be especially selective with fish and seafood; only buy fish from reputable sources like grocery stores and seafood markets, and make sure packaged seafood is well-packed in ice and free of dents and tears.
Of course, it’s best to inspect all food packages for holes, tears or openings when shopping. Consumer Reports also advises shopping the perimeter of the store last – while grocery stores are arranged for consumers to pick up produce, meat and dairy first, it’s safer to put products requiring refrigeration into your cart last. Consumer Reports also urges shoppers to get food home quickly. Perishable food should not be out of refrigeration for more than two hours, or one hour in hot weather.
According to CDC, restaurants, banquet and catering facilities, and in-home cooking, account for 87% of foodborne disease breakouts: 61% in restaurants; 14% in catering or banquet facilities; 12% in private homes.
At home: cleanliness, storage, temperature
And with the holidays fast approaching, be sure to check out the DuPage County Health Department’s tips for safely preparing and cooking your turkey and holiday foods. DuPagehealth.com/turkey provides safety tips for thawing, cooking and stuffing a turkey and roasting other holiday meats. The site also offers some safety guidelines for restaurant food leftovers and doggie bags.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration lays out some safety guidelines in four simple steps: clean, separate, cook and chill. The first step, clean, reminds people to wash their hands and surfaces often; you should wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. Next, be sure to separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags and refrigerator. When it’s time to cook, the FDA cautions that color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety—using a thermometer to verify a minimum internal temperature is the only way to ensure the safety of foods. The last step – chill – refers to refrigerating foods properly. In this step, use an appliance thermometer to be sure refrigerated food is consistently 40° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below. You should also refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and other perishables within two hours of cooking or purchasing.
Concerning storage times and temperatures, Foodsafety.gov also includes a useful chart with storage times for the refrigerator and freezer, with categories that include salads, hot dogs, luncheon meat, bacon and sausage, hamburgers and other ground meats, fresh beef, veal, lamb and pork, fresh poultry, soups and stews and leftovers. According to the site, the short time limits for home-refrigerated foods help keep them from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. For instance, bacon can last for seven days in a refrigerator (40°F or below), while raw sausage only lasts for one or two days. Additionally, foodsafety.gov notes that food constantly stored at 0°F or below can be kept indefinitely and maintain its quality longer than refrigerated food.
DuPage County offers a wealth of information. For food safety fact sheets related to Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas go to http://www.dupagehealth.org/seasonal-food-safety-fact-sheets.
Dining out: cleanliness, attitude, inspection scores
According to the CDC, restaurants, banquet and catering facilities account for 75% of foodborne diseases. When you’re looking for restaurant for the holidays, include health inspection reports as part of your research. For information on specific restaurants, contact the DuPage County Health department.
CDC recommends making sure the restaurant is clean. If the dining area is spotless, that is a good indication that the cooking area is meticulous, too.
Inspect your food before eating. If your meat or poultry is undercooked, or you vegetables are not fresh, sent it back. Restaurants (at least the ones you will want to dine at) will have no problem replacing food that is not just right.
You can report complaints regarding restaurants, other retail food facilities, public pools and spas, private septic systems, private water wells, and other environmental health issues online at http://www.dupagehealth.org/contact-dchd.
Food safety is an important part of a healthy life. This brief article touches on some of the basics. On DuPageNeighbors.com you will find much more information provided by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, including a chill chart, cooking temperature chart, food safety tips, helpful facts sheets, videos and links to other sources. We will have regular features of recipes with safety information…great recipes that you can serve your family with confidence.
September is Food Safety Education month. With a little extra education this month, you can protect your family all year long.