Community Magazine

Food Safety Begins in the Supermarket

By Jean Campbell

food  and food safetyWith radio and TV news reports, this week, announcing the recall of thousands of pounds of ground turkey because of  potential contamination with Salmonella, it’s a good time to hear what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to say about preventing foodborne illnesses.

“Each year, roughly 1 in 6 people in the US gets sick from eating contaminated food. The 1,000 or more reported outbreaks that happen each year reveal familiar culprits—Salmonella and other common germs.

We know that reducing contamination works.

During the past 15 years, a dangerous type of E. coli infection, responsible for the recall of millions of pounds of ground beef, has been cut almost in half.

Yet during that same time, Salmonella infection, which causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food and $365 million in direct medical costs annually, has not declined.

Yearly, 1 million people get sick from eating food contaminated with Salmonella. Applying lessons learned from reducing E. coli O157 infections could help reduce illness caused by Salmonella.”

According to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food related illnesses cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year. That is a lot of sickness and death, that in many cases could have been prevented.

WebMD.com describes Salmonella as, “A nasty bacterium that sometimes turns up in the food supply, including chicken, tomatoes, peanuts, salsa, guacamole, and even pet food. It thrives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans and can cause food poisoning. Illnesses range from mild to very serious infections that can kill vulnerable people. But there are ways to protect yourself.”

As  a consumer, you play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While shopping for food, you need to:

1. Check for cleanliness – Make sure your market looks, smells and feels clean.

2. Certain foods need to be kept separated – Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood apart from other foods in your cart.  Put  these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. As the checkout person to separate these foods from other foods in your grocery bags.

3. Inspect cans and jars – Don’t buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don’t buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids. Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can “keep” for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don’t buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.

4. Inspect frozen food packaging-Don’t buy frozen food if the package is damaged. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.

5. Select frozen foods and perishables last – Make Meat, poultry, fish and eggs the last items placed in your cart.

6. Choose fresh eggs carefully – Before putting eggs in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs and follow the “Safe Handling Instructions” on the carton.

7. Be mindful of time and temperature

It’s important to refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety experts stress the “2-hour rule”—because harmful bacteria can multiply in the “danger zone” (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun.

If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car’s air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.


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