A few simple steps to ensure your food is safe to eat


By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Aug. 12, 2012, at 11:42 a.m.

When we bring home canned goods from the supermarket, how many of us clean the lids before opening the cans?

It’s an easy step that health officials say can head off a lot of potential misery. A can may have been dusted recently in the store, but it may be covered by airborne germs and bacteria. Opening that dirty lid can let the contaminants fall right onto your food.

Another often neglected safety step is washing of food itself. Bacterial outbreaks traced to cantaloupe prompted warnings about washing the rinds in hot, soapy water before cutting; failing to wash allows bacteria to be spread inside when the knife goes through the rind.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration have produced six guides for people who need to be especially careful to prevent foodborne illnesses. These include people with weakened immune systems (cancer patients, those with HIV or AIDS), diabetics, older people, pregnant women and transplant recipients. Find the guides athttp://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/risk/index.html.

These are what FDA and USDA say that they are — guides, not comprehensive lists. People should check with their doctors for individual guidance on their conditions.

Some general hints apply to everyone, regardless of other health issues:

Make wise food choices

Uncooked fruits and vegetables are more likely to contain high levels of bacteria. So are some animal products (raw milk products, raw or undercooked eggs, raw meats, fish, shellfish and their juices). Luncheon meats and deli-type salads (without preservatives) prepared on site in a deli-type establishment may also be riskier than many other foods.

Careful shopping can help cut risks

Put raw packaged poultry, meat or fish in a plastic bag before putting it in your shopping cart, so it won’t drip on and contaminate other foods. Buy refrigerated shell eggs; if your recipe calls for raw eggs, buy pasteurized refrigerated liquid eggs. Be aware of sell-by dates. Don’t buy dented, bulging or cracked cans.

Transport food safely

Pick up perishable goods last, and plan to go straight home after checking out. Always refrigerate perishables within two hours of picking up groceries (one hour if the outdoor temperature is 90 or above). In hot weather, you can take a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs to transport food safely.

Prepare your food safely

Always have clean hands, work surfaces and utensils. Prevent cross-contamination; keep the juices of raw meats, seafoods, poultry and eggs away from ready-to-eat foods. Clean up with paper towels; if you use cloth towels, wash them often in hot water. Clean surfaces with a mild solution of unscented chlorine bleach (one tablespoon to a gallon of water).

If you think you’ve been affected by a foodborne pathogen, do the following:

• Consult your physician immediately; if you develop symptoms of infection, seek medical advice or treatment right away.

• Preserve the remaining food by wrapping it, labeling it “DANGER” and freezing it. The remainder could be analyzed to help determine the source of the outbreak and help others.

• Save all packaging and all identical unopened products.

• Contact your local health department.

The state of Maine lists food safety recalls at www.maine.gov/agriculture/qar/. To order the at-risk booklets, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854) or email mphotline.fsis@usda.gov or fsis.outreach@usda.gov.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s  nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.


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