British scare is reminder of food safety

Eating Well

April 09, 1996|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Britain's mad cow disease controversy has us noticing food safety issues once again. These occasional high visibility "scares" grab our attention for a while, usually just long enough for us to demand more rules and regulations. Then they fade from consciousness, pushed aside by the demands of daily life.

What's interesting is that the most pervasive threats to food safety lie much closer to home, with food handlers. And that's usually you and me.

A lot of food poisoning incidents go unnoticed, because the symptoms (stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes chills and fever) look like an intestinal flu. To add to the confusion, symptoms can start anywhere from three hours to three days after eating contaminated food.

The National Livestock and Meat Board points out that Centers for Disease Control statistics say 97 percent of all food poisoning incidents reported between 1983 and 1987 could have been prevented by better food handling practices. That means proper cooking, food storage and personal hygiene.

The American Dietetic Association offers these tips for improving the safety of your food.

Keep it clean

Keep a clean kitchen. Know where bacteria can flourish, and keep a close watch everyday to eliminate their breeding grounds on:

Hands: Wash your hands in warm, soapy water before and after every step in the food preparation process.

Work surfaces: Clean them often and remove all food particles. Sanitize cutting boards after each use with a bleach and water solution and let them air-dry. Don't use the same cutting board for raw meat and any other food.

Utensils: Beware of cross-contamination. For example, don't carry the cooked meat to the table in the dame dish used to carry the raw meat to the grill.

Towels and dish cloths: They can harbor bacteria. Change them often. Throw out dirty sponges.

Appliances: Pay particular attention to the refrigerator. Wipe up spills right away, and keep shelves, sides and door sanitized.

Care of food

Also, know the foods that need your attention -- meat, poultry, dairy products and canned goods. These are the food items that require care in the kitchen. Here are some safety tips.

Keep food out of the temperature danger zone: 40 to 140 degrees F. Foods left out for more than two hours, even in heated serving units, invite bacteria to grow.

Thaw meat, poultry or fish in the refrigerator. Never thaw on the counter. Bacteria thrive in food at room temperature.

Cook chicken well done. It is not safe to eat rare or medium-rare poultry. When grilling, be patient; grill temperature is as important as oven temperature in killing bacteria.

Stuff chicken or turkey just before roasting. This keeps the bacteria in raw poultry from invading the starchy stuffing, a favorite breeding ground. Once cooked, poultry and stuffing should be stored separately in the refrigerator.

Treat cracked eggs carefully. If you find a cracked egg in a carton, don't use it. Cracked eggs can harbor disease-carrying organisms.

Storing foods

Finally, keep watch on the cupboard. The length of time canned goods keep has a lot to do with how carefully you store them. For safe, dry storage:

Keep the cupboard or pantry clean, dry, dark and cool. the ideal temperature is 50 to 70 degrees F. Temperatures over 100 are harmful to canned goods.

Organize the cupboard, with older cans up front for earlier use. Generally, canned goods keep for at least one year.

Be alert for signs of spoilage. Never use food from cans that are cracked, bulging or leaking or that spurt liquid when opened. Don't taste! These spoilage signs may mean the deadly botulism organism may be present. Discard These cans immediately.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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