Food safety is of extreme importance to our health and those of our loved ones. More and more we hear of mass food contamination incidents and food recalls in the news. This is due through lack of use of proper hygeine by employees on farms, in butcher shops, packing houses, restaurants, and grocery chains and failure of these facilities to adhere to strict food and safety laws of the FDA. In a haste to meet deadlines and get the foods to market in order to reap larger profits these rules are often overlooked. There are, too, always those employees who rather than report something to their superiors when they have made an error will let it slide by in fear of losing their job.
Food poisoning can not only be a very unpleasant experience but a costly one which leave us with long term organ damage and can be fatal as well.
As adults it is our responsibility to protect our children and those we serve food to from the carelessness and greed of others. Therefore, food safety should be a constant forethought while grocery shopping. There are a number of things you can do to protect your family.
AT THE GROCERY STORE:
PURCHASING MEATS - While sales are always welcome savings to the food budget, be wary of purchasing sale meats. If the price is too good to be true, there is often a reason for the sale. Most grocery stores will reduce prices on meats going out of the date of freshness in hopes of gaining quick sales to keep from losing profits. Check the packages carefully, turning them in the light. I have picked up packages in many stores and have seen faint streaks and sometimes large spots of green color in the meat under the plastic wrap. Sometimes this discoloration is not readily seen when making purchases in a hurry and without turning it a little in the lighting of the store. Be aware of any odd odor, a usual indication the meat is spoiling.
Check the packaging on all meat purchases for any puncture in the plastic wrap. A properly wrapped package of meat would be safer than one that has been exposed to air and germs. It is safer overall to find a store near you that has lower meat prices in general to that of their competitors and check those packages carefully than to purchase sale bin meats.
Check your grocery's deli out before purchasing prepared meats and other dishes. There are many which transport packages of cooked meats to heated stands at the front of the store or in front of the deli. Check the packages closely to try and determine how long it has sat there. If unsure, ask the deli clerk.
PURCHASING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES - Be aware through television and newspapers of any reported contaminations or possible contaminations of fruits and vegetables. If one particular variety of fruit or vegetable is in question, adjust your planned menu so you do not need to purchase that item of produce until the problem has been satisfactorily resolved. Hepatitis is a common contaminant of fruits and vegetables if not properly handled by the suppliers. Hepatitis A is spread through fecal-oral contamination with fruits, vegetables, and shellfish contaminated by washing in contaminated water prior to reaching the market.
Check all fruits and vegetables at the market for freshness. Do not purchase those they look like they may have spots spoiling on them.
PURCHASING CANNED FOOD - Check cans prior to purchase for any dents or punctures in the cans. Botulism occurs by eating spoiled foods caused by the botulin toxin. Botulism is a serious paralytic illness which acts by blocking nerve function and leads to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis. One microgram of botulin toxin is lethal to humans.
PURCHASING DRY FOODS - When purchasing dry food packages such as rice, beans, cereal, and pastas, always check the box or plastic bag for any punctures in the packaging. Also check plastic bags for any infestation of bugs like weevils.
IN THE HOME:
Keep your kitchen cleaned after each meal. Wash kitchen counters thoroughly with a good antibacterial kitchen cleaner and hot water, rinse and dry, after handling food. This is particularly necessary immediately after handling raw meats.
Use a cutting board which can be placed in the dishwasher or equally hot water, such as Corningware. Wooden cutting boards absorb germs and cannot be properly cleaned.
Place any meat packages you do not intend to use within the next day or two into freezer bags and store in the freezer to prevent spoilage. Check all meats, fresh or thawed, again prior to cooking for possible spoilage. Look for strange odors or discolartions of the meat.
Cook meats to suggested internal temperatures. Do not slow cook poultry overnight. Many people have told of cooking turkeys in 250 degree ovens overnight. That temperature is not sufficient to be safe and can cause food poisoning.
Should your refrigerator or freezer malfunction, do not refreeze food that has thawed. As disheartening as it may be, discard any foods that cannot immediately be eaten when completely thawed. If you have been away from home and are unsure of how long the appliance has been out of operation, discard all the food for safety.
Check canned goods again prior to use. Cans may become dented in trasporting them home and accidentally be stored for a period of time before they are discovered. Discard any dented and punctured cans. Dents can cause puntures to the cans which cannot be seen.
Do not store cooked meats and vegetables outside the refrigerator after meals. Many older people believe that meats are safe after cooked and will leave them out from lunch until dinner but it is far better to refrigerate them and reheat when needed.
Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables prior to use. Washing prior to storage will cause them to spoil but do wash them prior to preparation. Vegetable and fruit washes are available on the market. If you purchase those adhere strictly to the directions.
Wash dried beans and lentils prior to preparation in a colander under the kitchen faucet.
If at all possible, purchase a dishwasher. A dishwasher is capable of scalding dishes at a much higher water temperature than anyone can wash dishes in and therefore kills germs.
Regularly clean all coffee and tea makers and any pitchers or coolers sweet tea is stored in after being prepared. They can build up a black mold that is not safe to the digestive system.
In dining out the best we can hope for is to choose to eat at reputable restaurants and note how their employees are dressed and how the food is presented for consumption. Any restaurant can accidentally purchase fruits or vegetables that have been contaminated prior to their arrival but what are their methods of the handling of fresh produce? As a general rule, the nicer restaurants employee more staff and take more precautions than fast food restaurants who employee fewer people with a high rate of teenagers among the employees. Buffets are not as safe to eat from as ordering from a menu due to the high traffic of people around open food pans and containers. Any of the patrons may be sick at the time they visited the buffet and not take proper precautions. Many parents allow children to help themselves and they will actually pick up certain foods with unwashed hands. Salad buffets are even more dangerous than steam table buffets.
By making these tips your normal routine while shopping and preparing foods you will be practicing excellent food safety precautions. You can then rest assured you have done all possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.