In my last post, I presented myself as something of a food maverick who doesn’t follow recipes, rarely measure ingredients, and almost never prepares a dish twice in the same way.
But please note that in the arena of food safety, I’m a stickler for the rules. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick from something they’ve eaten; 128,000 of them end up in the hospital, and 3,000 die.
So, I'm the one on the summer festival planning committee who insists that the donated watermelons be scrubbed with a stiff brush and rinsed off with a hose before cutting and serving them.
I’m the one at the summer potluck who insists that the deviled eggs and the chicken salad stay in their coolers before and after their brief appearance on the serving table, and that the grilled chicken and burgers get tested for doneness with a meat thermometer and eaten soon after cooking, or refrigerated for reheating later.
Food contamination can happen at any point along the chain from soil to plate
Almost every day the news offers up some story of a food recalled for (usually) bacterial contamination, or of restaurant patrons, cruise-ship travellers, or school children falling sick from something prepared in a presumably licensed commercial or institutional kitchen.
As many as 15 federal agencies play some role in overseeing food safety in the U.S., primarily the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Critics have charged that overlapping responsibilities, conflicts of interest, inadequate funding for inspectors, along with lack of accountability and transparency in food production and processing make ensuring a safe food supply a challenging and ongoing problem.
Perhaps, like me, you produce and preserve a lot of your food and buy most of the rest of it from local growers. But don’t assume that growing your own or knowing the farmer who produced your food guarantees its safety.
Food contamination can happen at any point along the chain from soil to plate. Pay close attention to what you do control, and keep an eye out for recalls.
Most of what you need to know can be summed up in four words: clean, separate, cook, and chill. There’s a lot of useful information on this page; click on the “expand” buttons to review each entry thoroughly.
Food safety myths Most folks believe one or more of these myths. Go ahead, test yourself!
You can’t tell by looking at the food if it’s safe You really can't. You need to cook meats, fish, and poultry to the temperature needed to kill germs. Measure with a meat thermometer. After cooking, eat the hot foods and refrigerate leftovers.
Ask Karen Ask a question online, receive an answer from a large knowledge base of common food safety questions .
Investigating Foodborne Outbreaks Learn about the complex process of tracking down the source of a food-poisoning outbreak.
Home food preservation
A national survey conducted in 2000 revealed a high percentage of home food processors are using practices that put them at high risk for foodborne illness and economic losses due to food spoilage. National Center for Home Food Preservation
I’ve blogged on the topic of home food preservation before: Preserving Summer Abundance? Keep it safe!
The bottom line? Always follow USDA’s kitchen-tested recipes for home food preserving, available online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, based at the University of Georgia.
And the final words of wisdom regarding food safety: When in doubt, throw it out!
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.