Tag Archives: food safety

Why is Food Safety so Important?

As well as being National Healthy Aging Month, September is also Food Safety Education Month, an educational outreach initiative to raise awareness about the steps we can all take to prevent food poisoning.

Keep Your Food Safe
If you’ve ever eaten potato salad that has sat out a little too long at a summer cookout or have unknowingly been served under-cooked meat at a restaurant, then you know first-hand the distress of food poisoning. Unless you’ve personally experienced a food-borne illness, you may not give too much thought to food safety in your everyday life. Food-borne illnesses are completely preventable, and understanding food safety—the proper handling, preparation, and storage of food—is key to prevention.

Food-borne illness is a public health problem. Every year, an estimated one in six Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food. Anyone can get food poisoning, but some people are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from food contamination, including young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Keeping your family safe from food-borne illnesses is actually pretty simple. By following four easy steps—clean, separate, cook, and chill—you can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home. Learn more about all of these steps here.

1. Clean
Germs and bacteria can live in many places around your kitchen including on your hands, in your food, on utensils, and on cutting boards and countertops. That’s why proper cleaning is so important.

  • Wash your hands often and the correct way. It’s best to use plain soap and water: skip the antibacterial soaps, and wash your hands under warm, running water for at least 20 seconds while scrubbing your palms, backs, between the fingers, and under the nails. Rinse your hands well and dry thoroughly with a clean, dry towel.
  • Clean surfaces and utensils after each use. Use hot soapy water to clean all dishes, utensils, and cutting boards, and wipe down countertops especially after cooking or preparing raw meat, seafood, or eggs. Be sure to wash all dish towels in hot water on a regular basis.
  • Wash your fruit and vegetables by rinsing them under plain, warm, running water. Using soap, bleach, or specially made produce washes is not necessary. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  • Do not wash meat, eggs, or poultry.

2. Separate
Preventing cross-contamination of different foods is the key to preventing food-borne illnesses.

  • Use separate dishes and cutting boards for produce, meat, seafood, and eggs. Use separate utensils for raw or cooked foods.
  • Wash all dishes, utensils, and cutting boards in hot soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.
  • Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in individual, sealed plastic bags, and store them in the refrigerator. If you don’t plan to use them in a few days, place them in the freezer.
  • Store eggs in the carton they came in, and place them on a shelf in the refrigerator and not on the door.

3. Cook
Always cook food to the correct temperature to ensure that you kill any germs that can cause illness.

  • Invest in a good food thermometer, and use it to test the temperature of the cooked food by placing it into the thickest part of the food. Use this chart to determine if your food is cooked to the right temperature.
  • If you’re not serving food right away, keep it hot by storing in a chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

4. Chill
Refrigerate and freeze food properly to prevent spoilage and food-borne illnesses.

  • Place perishable foods in the refrigerator within two hours of purchasing from the store.
  • Store leftovers in individual containers and refrigerate immediately.
  • Do not thaw or marinate food on the counter, only do so in the refrigerator.
  • Regularly check food in your fridge, freezer, or pantry for expiration dates. Throw out any food that is past its expiration date or otherwise looks or smells spoiled. Use this guide for recommended storage times for different foods.

 

Fish and Seafood: Is It Safe?

In summer, as more people are enjoying beach vacations and other waterfront activities, they are also consuming more fish and seafood products—some at their destinations and some that they may be grilling at home.  But how confident can you be that the seafood you consume is safe?

Who Controls (and Monitors) Seafood Safety?

In the United States, highly integrated programs within agencies of the federal government, various state regulatory agencies, and private industry work together to ensure the safety and quality of seafood products for consumers:

  • The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has the chief responsibility for the safety of seafood products in the United States. In 1997, it established a regulation requiring all seafood processors and retailers to utilize food safety controls (known as HACCP) “to identify any food safety hazards that are likely to occur and to implement a system of controls at critical steps in their operation to prevent, eliminate, or reduce these hazards to an acceptable level.” It also requires any entity in a foreign country that exports seafood to the US to implement the same system of controls. In addition, it monitors food imports and issues alerts for foods that do not meet US standards.
  • A USDA (US Department of Agriculture) regulation requires that seafood sold in large retail stores has a label which identifies its country of origin. So, when shopping for seafood, you can check the packaging to see country of origin labeling on the package. The United States imports more than 80% of the seafood we eat, but a large portion of it is actually caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, then re-imported to the US.
  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has among its diverse functions the management of the US fishery resources in territorial waters and operates a voluntary seafood inspection and grading program to ensure safe, high-quality seafood. Its consumer safety inspectors travel to fishing vessels, processors, and cold storage facilities around the world to evaluate seafood processors and retailers who have requested an inspection or who are under investigation. These businesses are considered to be approved establishments if they pass the inspection but must still comply with regulatory inspections by the FDA.
  • The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) carries out investigations concerning all foods including fish and seafood and gives recommendations to the medical community for prevention and treatment.
  • The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) along with the FDA sets standards for allowable levels of contaminants in fish caught recreationally and works with the FDA on managing risk in commercial fishery products.

State Regulations – Each state has regulations regarding the harvesting, processing, distribution, and sale of fish and seafood products within its boundaries. States also work with the FDA in implementing the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) to ensure the safety of bivalve molluscan shellfish (clams, oysters, and mussels) sold in the U.S. These agencies also inspect all food processing plants, wholesale, distribution, and warehouse firms to ensure that they are handling, storing, processing, and transporting all food including seafood in a safe and sanitary manner. They have specific regulations for food retail stores, and state or local agencies inspect restaurants and other food service establishments that sell prepared food including seafood for consumption away from home.

Fish from recreational fishing in the ocean, estuaries, in freshwater lakes, ponds,          rivers, or streams supply approximately one-fifth of the fish and shellfish eaten in the US. These products do not fall under the same regulations as commercial seafood products, but the regulations of most states prohibit the sale of recreational  fish without a commercial harvester’s license. Food safety concerns related to fishing in these waters is governed by state fisheries and health agencies.

Knowing that all of these agencies are involved in protections for consumers is reassuring, but you can do your part when shopping for seafood to cook at home by purchasing from reputable dealers who will be able give you more information on the seafood they sell and its country of origin.

To learn more, click here.

 

Holiday Food Leftovers – How Long Will They Keep?

Over the holidays, you are likely to be preparing a large meal for family and friends. But what to do with all the leftovers? In a short time, you and your family members will be sick of eating turkey or ham sandwiches, hash, or other leftover-inspired dishes.

Knowing prior to a holiday how long you can store certain cooked foods will help you avoid having to throw out food as well as ensuring that it is safe to eat.

These factors influence how long leftovers will keep:

1. How long food is left to sit out at room temperature after a meal. Family and friends often sit around the table talking after a holiday meal and may lose track of time. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and other side dishes should be refrigerated within two hours of the time it was cooked—not from the time it was served.

2. Whether meat was cooked to the correct temperature

  • Turkey should be cooked until it reaches 165°F as measured by a food thermometer. The temperature should be checked in the thickest part of the breast, the deepest part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.
  • Fresh or smoked ham should be cooked to a temperature of 145°F and allowed to rest for three minutes. Reheat fully cooked ham to 140°F.
  • Beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 140°F and allowed to rest three minutes.

You can store leftovers for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. If you have a larger quantity of food than you can eat within that time, freeze part of it within two hours of the time it was cooked.

If turkey was cooked with stuffing inside, remove the stuffing and store it separately from the leftover turkey meat.

You do not have to let hot food cool off before putting it into the refrigerator but divide it into smaller portions to allow it to cool off more quickly in the refrigerator.

From a registered dietitian, the following guide is helpful.

A Guide to Storing Food Leftovers

Food Fridge Freezer
Turkey, cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Meat (ham, beef), cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Gravy 1-2 days 2-3 months
Cranberry sauce 10-14 days 1-2 months
Stuffing, cooked 3-4 days 1 month
Mashed potatoes, yams 3-5 days 10-12 months
Soup 2-3 days 4-6 months
Vegetables, cooked 3-4 days 2-3 months
Pumpkin pie, baked 3-4 days 1-2 months