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Information Connection: Food Safety

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Food Safety Basics

by , health and fitness expert

Every year, an estimated 7 million Americans suffer from cases of food-borne illness. Some cases are violent and even result in death. The culprit is food that has dangerously high levels of bacteria due to improper cooking or handling.

We often take food safety for granted, but occasionally we get a wake up call. And we promptly go right back to sleep. This is a dangerous attitude. It is important for consumers to take an all-around safety approach to purchasing, storing and preparing both traditional and new meat and poultry products. Ultimately, consumers and food handlers bear the responsibility for keeping food safe once it leaves the store.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumers could avoid about 85 percent of foodborne illness cases if we would handle food properly. Proper cooking and processing of raw meat and poultry kill bacteria that cause most foodborne illness.

  • When you're out, buy groceries last. Take food straight home to the refrigerator.
  • Never leave food in a hot car.
  • Don't buy anything you won't use before the use-by date. A common myth is that bulk buying saves money, but in reality it results in waste and overuse.
  • Don't buy food in poor condition. Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch. Frozen food should be rock-solid. Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids which can indicate a serious food poisoning threat.
  • Keep your refrigerator in good shape. Check its temperature with a thermometer. The refrigerator should run at 40 DegrF. Colder is better, as long as you don't freeze your milk or lettuce. The freezer should run 0 DegrF. Keep those coils clean; vacuum at least monthly.
  • When you prepare food, keep everything clean. Always wash your hands in hot soapy water before preparing and handling any food--and after you use the bathroom, change diapers, handle pets, etc. Wash kitchen towels, sponges and dish cloths often, and replace the dish cloths and sponges you use regularly every few weeks.
  • Thaw frozen food in your refrigerator. Don't take your food out of the freezer and leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw. This is extremely dangerous since the bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws. It is wise to do your marinating in the refrigerator too.
  • Keep all raw meats, poultry and fish and their juices away from other food. For instance, wash your hands, your cutting board and knife in hot soapy water after cutting up the chicken and before dicing salad ingredients. 
All of the above is really about food hygiene. Another food safety issue that everyone would do well to consistently protect against is the problem of poisons presented as food. These include:
  • High fructose corn syrup. Also called corn sweetener. This toxin causes a severe glycemic response, wreaking havoc on the body. It falls into a class of substances called endocrine modifiers. Effects include excess conversion of calories to fat, loss of bone mass, subnormal testosterone, insulin swings, and various diseases. If this stuff is on the label, don't eat what's in the container.
  • Fruit juices. Similar effect on the body as HFCS.
  • Hydrogenated oil. This was once thought to be a risk factor for colon cancer. But now it is seen as a cause of colon cancer. Look for it on the labels of flour-based products (do not eat flour-based products unless you can confirm they are HO-free).

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