On April 7th, the World Health Organization is highlighting food safety. Food safety is a global issue, but it affects individuals in serious ways here in America. Today is an excellent opportunity to focus on the importance of food safety in the home to learn how you can prevent foodborne illness, which is a serious health issue and economic burden. According to the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the USDA, each year, we spend $6.9 billion to deal with five bacterial pathogens: Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E.coli O157:H7, and E. coli non-O157:H7 STEC (2000). These costs include medical expenses, lost productivity, and even death in the most extreme cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne microorganisms cause 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in America each year. These numbers may seem shocking, but the good news is that simple steps can be taken every day to prevent the spread of these harmful bacteria.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education’s campaign focuses on four simple food handling practices to prevent foodborne illness. When preparing foods, follow four basic principles: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
- Clean: Bacteria can spread on kitchen surfaces such as cutting boards, utensils, and countertops in addition to hands and food. Cleaning them with warm, soapy water and washing hands properly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds can eliminate bacteria on surfaces.
- Separate: Cross-contamination can occur between raw foods and utensils. It is important to start with a clean environment and keep raw meats, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods. Having designated cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and fresh produce can reduce the risk of cross-contamination, too.
- Cook: When food is cooked to the proper temperature, it kills harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. To ensure food reaches the appropriate temperature, always use a food thermometer. This goes for leftovers, too.
- Chill: Once food is prepared, refrigerate foods quickly, as cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Refrigerated foods should be kept at 40o F or below and frozen foods at 0 o F or below. Foods should be kept out of the danger zone of 40o to 140o F, at which bacteria grows most rapidly.
Even when you have the best intentions in preparing safe meals for family and friends, some common misconceptions about food safety remain. Here are some myths that may surprise you:
Myth #1: Rinse raw meat, poultry, and seafood with water.
Fact: Rinsing raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the sink can actually increase the risk of cross-contamination and foodborne illness. Cooking these raw foods to the proper internal temperature is the best way to kill harmful bacteria. Cook poultry to 165o F and ground meats to 160o F.
Myth #2: Wash bagged salad and other greens before you eat it.
Fact: Washing bagged greens labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed” increases risk for cross-contamination. These types of greens have been prepared with safety and convenience in mind, so enjoy them right out of the bag.
Myth #3: Use your finger to touch food when cooking to know whether it is done.
Fact: The only way to know for sure that food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer and check the temperature. The outside of the food may appear safe to eat, but there may be cold spots inside.
Myth #4: The microwave kills harmful bacteria.
Fact: It’s the heat generated by the microwave oven that kills bacteria, not the actual microwaves. Because microwave ovens vary and can leave cold spots, be sure to check the temperature with a food thermometer in several spots to ensure safety.
Myth #5: There is no need to wash produce if you are going to peel it.
Fact: Harmful bacteria can spread from the peels to the edible portions during peeling or cutting. Wash fresh produce under running tap water and dry it prior to eating. Washing everything—hands, fresh produce, and cleaning utensils—is the safest way to prepare and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
For more information on this topic, please visit www.fightbac.org