“From farm to plate, make food safe” was the theme of this year’s World Health Day. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization highlighted the importance of food safety.
Because that is a key focus of our Colorado State University Extension Office, I didn’t feel I could ignore it. The WHO estimates that unsafe food is linked to the deaths of more than 2 million people annually, many of which are children.
Our food and water can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemical substances that can cause more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to cancer to autoimmune diseases. But with a little knowledge and the right practices, these outcomes are preventable.
When was the last time you had the dreaded “stomach flu”? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the vast majority of stomach flu is actually food poisoning (at least 90 percent).
Despite our nation’s food supply ranking among the safest in the world, the CDC conservatively estimates that there are more than 48 million cases of food-borne illness in the U.S. annually. This results in an average of 1 in 6 of us getting sick, more than 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year. The people most at risk are children, pregnant women and those with impaired immune systems.
Problems can arise from contaminants in the soil and water or from a lapse in safety procedures during processing, transportation, storage or preparation. The government takes actions to help ensure our food is safe, but the consumer has the final and most critical responsibility.
Safe food handling involves:
Cleaning: Illness causing bacteria and viruses (such as norovirus) can survive in many places around your kitchen, including on your hands, utensils and cutting boards. Unless you wash your hands, utensils and surfaces adequately, you spread bacteria to your food and family. Hand-washing is most effective part of this action. Know that vinegar will not affect viruses.
Separating: Even after adequate cleaning, raw or cooked meats, poultry, seafood, fresh produce and eggs can spread harmful bacteria to other foods and surfaces unless you separate them and maintain proper cleaning actions. It is no longer recommended to rinse poultry under a running faucet because of the potential microscopic spray of bacteria. Only fresh produce should be cleaned under running water and not soaked in water to prevent the spread of the bacteria.
Cooking: The bacteria that causes food poisoning doubles every 20 minutes. Depending on temperature, this can take five pathogens to more than a 1 million in just hours! Keep high-risk foods at temperatures below 40 degrees (refrigerate) or above 140 degrees (cooking). Relying on color or texture has been found to be completely inadequate to determine food safety. Use an instant-read thermometer to ensure safe temperatures.
Chilling: Because bacteria and viruses can multiply quickly in perishable foods, various actions are recommended. Put foods into the refrigerator promptly (within a couple of hours). As we approach warm weather, have a clean cooler in your vehicle to transport your groceries from store to home. Family or group summer gatherings are at high risk because of warm temperatures and food sitting out for a prolonged time.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.