Mother’s Day and Food Safety

Here comes Mother’s Day; a day for hosting a gathering for our mothers. For many of us, it is a time to serve convenience food, so we have more time to enjoy our company.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education wants you to know that to prevent food-related illness due to under-cooking frozen or other convenience foods follow these four simple tips:

1. Read and follow package cooking instructions.

2. Know when to use a microwave or conventional oven.

3. Know your microwave wattage before microwaving food.

4. Always use a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service wants you to know the following about keeping party foods safe:

  • Make sure all food is cooked thoroughly before serving.
  • Store prepared foods in shallow pans so they cool quickly and evenly. Reheat and serve small amounts on platters while the remaining food stays hot in the oven.
  • Don’t let food stay at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Use chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers to keep foods hot.
  • Surround dishes of cold foods with ice.

Both government agencies are quick to remind us that taking precautions when preparing and serving food can spare us the misery of a food-induced illness.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Recently, FoodSafety.gov developed and published the following message about foods to avoid while pregnant.

foodsBecause pregnancy affects your immune system, you and your unborn baby are more susceptible to the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are in some foods and can cause foodborne illness. Even if you don’t feel sick, some “bugs” like Listeria and Toxoplasma can infect your baby and cause serious health problems. Your baby is also sensitive to toxins from the foods that you eat, such as mercury in certain kinds of fish.

Keep this checklist handy to help ensure that you and your unborn baby stay healthy and safe. Be sure to invest in a food thermometer to check the temperatures of cooked foods.

Don’t Eat These Foods Why What to Do
Soft CHEESES made from unpasteurized milk, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, and queso fresco May contain E. coli or Listeria. Eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss. Or, check the label and make sure that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk.
Raw COOKIE DOUGH or CAKE BATTER May contain Salmonella. Bake the cookies and cake. Don’t lick the spoon!
Certain kinds of FISH, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (golden or white snapper) Contains high levels of mercury. Eat up to 12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish.Limit consumption of albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week.
Raw or undercooked FISH (sushi) May contain parasites or bacteria. Cook fish to 145° F.
Unpasteurized JUICE or cider (including fresh squeezed) May contain E. coli. Drink pasteurized juice. Bring unpasteurized juice or cider to a rolling boil and boil for at least 1 minute before drinking.
Unpasteurized MILK May contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Drink pasteurized milk.
SALADS made in a store, such as ham salad, chicken salad, and seafood salad. May contain Listeria. Make salads at home, following the food safety basics: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Raw SHELLFISH, such as oysters and clams May contain Vibrio bacteria. Cook shellfish to 145° F.
Raw or undercooked SPROUTS, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish May contain E. coli or Salmonella. Cook sprouts thoroughly.

Be Careful with These Foods Why What to Do
Hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry May contain Listeria. Even if the label says that the meat is precooked, reheat these meats to steaming hot or 165° F before eating.
Eggs and pasteurized egg products Undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella. Cook eggs until yolks are firm. Cook casseroles and other dishes containing eggs or egg products to 160° F.
Eggnog Homemade eggnog may contain uncooked eggs, which may contain Salmonella. Make eggnog with a pasteurized egg product or buy pasteurized eggnog. When you make eggnog or other egg-fortified beverages, cook to 160°F
Fish May contain parasites or bacteria. Cook fish to 145° F.
Ice cream Homemade ice cream may contain uncooked eggs, which may contain Salmonella. Make ice cream with a pasteurized egg product safer by adding the eggs to the amount of liquid called for in the recipe, then heating the mixture thoroughly..
Meat: Beef, veal, lamb, and pork (including ground meat) Undercooked meat may contain E. coli. Cook beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts to 145° F. Cook pork to 160° F. Cook all ground meats to 160° F.
Meat spread or pate Unpasteurized refrigerated pates or meat spreads may contain Listeria. Eat canned versions, which are safe.
Poultry and stuffing (including ground poultry) Undercooked meat may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter or Salmonella. Cook poultry to 165° F. If the poultry is stuffed, cook the stuffing to 165° F. Better yet, cook the stuffing separately.
Smoked seafood Refrigerated versions are not safe, unless they have been cooked to 165° F. Eat canned versions, which are safe, or cook to 165° F.

 

Regulating Sugars in Soft Drinks

sugarsIn a press release issued yesterday, HealthDay News reported that a leading consumer advocacy group, along with nutrition experts and health agencies from a number of U.S. cities, are calling for lowering the amount of sugars added to soft drinks.

The press release reads as follows:

Led by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the group  sent a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to determine safe levels of high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars in sodas and assorted soft drinks.

Currently, the average 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 16 teaspoons of sugars made from high-fructose corn syrup, the CSPI said. The American Heart Association currently recommends that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugars daily, and women no more than 6 teaspoons’ worth.

Some 14 million Americans of all ages now get more than one-third of their calories from added sugars, the petition stated.

“The consumption of such high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup [in sodas] are causing serious health problems, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, among others,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson.

There’s been a great deal of scientific evidence gathered over the past decade to support that link to health problems, he said, and “we’re contending that much of the evidence centers around beverages.” The CSPI believes most sugary sodas could be safely replaced by those made with low-calorie sweeteners.

The group said its petition has the support of public health departments in Baltimore; Boston; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and other cities, as well as leading academics at Harvard and Yale universities and other institutions around the country.

According to Jacobson, the FDA is legally bound to examine the health effects of the amount of sugars being consumed and take corrective action.

The center is first asking the FDA to determine the safe level of sugar in drinks. Also, it wants the FDA to issue targets for the sugar content of other sugary foods and urge industry to voluntarily reduce sugar levels in those foods, Jacobson said.

“The third thing is to educate consumers to choose healthier foods and beverages,” he said.

The FDA classifies high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and other sugars as “generally recognized as safe,” Jacobson said.

“What we’re asking the FDA to do is to modify those regulations and set some limits in beverages,” he said.

In the 1980s, the FDA twice committed to looking at limiting the level of sugars in foods if new scientific evidence found sugar levels were harmful to the public, or if sugar consumption rose, Jacobson said.

“We are reminding the FDA of that and saying you have an obligation to revisit this and protect the public’s health,” he said.

It will take years before any action is taken, but that gives industry time to adjust to using less sugar in drinks, Jacobson said.

Jacobson said economic issues shouldn’t be part of the FDA’s consideration. “There are winners and losers for any kind of a regulation. The sugar industry and the corn industry [which supplies ingredients for high-fructose corn syrup] would be losers, but the soft drink industry might be winners,” he said.

The makers of no-calorie sweeteners “would probably make out like bandits,” Jacobson said.

The CSPI hopes new sweeteners — such as rebiana, made from the stevia plant — will replace high-calorie sugar, making drinks healthier.

Although some people are concerned that these sweeteners may be harmful, Jacobson said they are still a better option than sugar.

“The FDA considers all these sweeteners perfectly safe,” Jacobson said. “We think the certain harm that’s coming from the 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of soda greatly outweighs the speculative risk from artificial sweeteners,” he added.

“We have an obesity epidemic on our hands, with two-thirds of Americans obese or overweight, and that should take precedence over smaller concerns,” Jacobson said.

One industry representative took issue with the new petition.

“As we continue to debate the root causes of our nation’s obesity issue, we need to rely on science and facts, not look for quick fixes that draw focus away from developing real solutions to a complex problem,” said J. Patrick Mohan, the interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, which represents high-fructose corn syrup manufacturers.

And the American Beverage Association, which represents soft drink makers, said its industry is already making changes.

“Today about 45 percent of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have zero calories and the overall average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23 percent since 1998,” the ABA said in a statement issued Wednesday. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Americans are consuming 37 percent fewer calories from sugars in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than in 2000,” the group added.

“Everyone has a role to play in reducing obesity levels — a fact completely ignored in this petition,” the ABA said. “This is why the beverage industry has worked to increase options and information for consumers.”

Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, said he joined the CSPI effort and is “proud to have signed the petition.”

“The evidence that an excess of added dietary sugars, in any of its many guises, is a major contributor to the prevailing public health ills of our time is now essentially incontrovertible,” he said. “It stands to reason that lowering those levels will help in efforts to reduce the levels of obesity, diabetes and other chronic disease.”

Soda and other sugary drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the U.S. diet, with Americans, on average, consuming between 18 and 23 teaspoons — about 300 to 400 calories — of added sugars each day, according to the petition.

Many teens and young adults consume even more sugar than the average. Some get at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugars, according to the 2007-2008 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The CSPI petition notes that cities around the country have taken note of the problem and have acted. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is capping restaurant soda serving sizes at 16 ounces — a move that has met with considerable resistance from some who believe it tramples individuals’ rights.

Note: A judge blocked the enforcing of the NYC law, that was to go into effect earlier this week, just a day before it was to become law.

Another Reason for Kids Eating Less Fast Foods

caloriesWe know that a diet high in fast foods tend to put weight on children and teens, but did you know that fast food consumption is also tied to an increased risk of certain health conditions?

A study coming out of New Zealand found that:

  • Children and teens eating fast foods a number of times each week are at an increased risk for severe asthma, rhino-conjunctivitis, and eczema.
  • Fruit eaten three or more times a week provide children and teens with a protective effect against severe asthma.

According to Philippa Ellwood, DDN, DPH, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and her colleagues, eating fast foods three or more times a week is associated with a 39% increased risk of severe asthma and a 70% increased risk of severe eczema among teens.In addition, children who eat fast foods with the same frequency have an increased risk of rhino-conjunctivitis and severe eczema.

The study article, published in journal Thorax, went on to report that reducing consumption of fast foods to two times a week, or less, reduced the incidence of wheezing and severe asthma in children. Ellwood and colleagues also found that eating fruit three or more times a week, among children and teens, offered a protective effect against severe asthma.

The authors stated,  “If the associations found in this study are causal, the findings have major public health significance owing to the rising consumption of fast foods globally,”

The authors noted that earlier research had found diets with high intake of cereal, rice, and nut and cereal protein showed decreased prevalence of the allergic conditions and a protective effect against the conditions with elevated fruit consumption. Similarly, other research has shown a harmful effect of linolenic acid and trans fatty acid consumption.

The researchers gathered symptom prevalence data on types of food intake and symptom prevalence of asthma, rhino-conjunctivitis, wheezing, and eczema from 319,196 teens, ages 13 and 14, from 51 countries, and 181,631 children, ages 6 and 7, from 31 countries through the third phase of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). The latter is a multi-center, multi-country, multiphase cross-sectional study.

Teen participants, or parents of young children, were administered questionnaires that looked at symptoms and symptom frequency over the 12 months prior to the study. Questions about food intake looked at types of foods and whether foods were eaten once, twice, or three or more times weekly.

Milk consumption was inversely associated with current wheeze at once or twice weekly, severe asthma three or more times weekly, and severe rhino-conjunctivitis and severe eczema once or twice a week in teens.

Consumptions of eggs, fruit, meat, and milk three or more times a week protected against “all three conditions, current or severe” among children.

“The positive associations with severe disease suggest that fast foods are a predictor of disease severity rather than disease occurrence, although it is difficult to separate out the two in this study,” researchers concluded.

Study researchers also shared that the protective association between fruit and vegetables and the three conditions need to  be further explored at country and regional levels.

The researchers found the study was limited by a number of factors, including self-report biases or classification errors, socioeconomic status’ effect on food consumption, and missing temporal data on disease outcome relative to diet.

 

The Holiday Buffet

holiday buffetHoliday buffets are a popular way to entertain, but these kinds of food service, where foods are left out for long periods of time, can be a health hazard.

Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline to help you have a safe holiday party.

Safe Food Handling
Always serve food on clean plates — not those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Otherwise, bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross contaminate the food to be served.

Cook Thoroughly
If you are cooking holiday foods ahead of time for your party, be sure to cook foods thoroughly to safe minimum internal temperatures.

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

Use Shallow Containers to Store Holiday Foods
Divide holiday cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Reheat hot foods to 165 °F. Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250 °F) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time. This way foods will be held at a safe temperature for a longer period of time. REPLACE empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many people’s hands may have been taking food from the dish, which has also been sitting out at room temperature.

The Two-Hour Rule for Holiday Buffets
Holiday foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more.

Keep Hot Foods HOT And Cold Foods COLD
Hot foods should be held at 140 °F or warmer. On the buffet table you can keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them.

Foodborne Bacteria
Bacteria are everywhere but a few types especially like to crash parties. Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Listeria monocytogenes frequent people’s hands and steam tables. And unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, harmful or pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted. Prevention is safe food handling.

If illness occurs, however, contact a health professional and describe the symptoms.

Staphylococcus aureus
Staphylococcus (“staph”) bacteria are found on our skin, in infected cuts and pimples, and in our noses and throats. They are spread by improper food handling. Prevention includes washing hands and utensils before preparing and handling foods and not letting prepared foods — particularly cooked and cured meats and cheese and meat salads — sit at room temperature more than two hours. Thorough cooking destroys “staph” bacteria but staphylococcal enterotoxin is resistant to heat, refrigeration and freezing.

Clostridium perfringens
Perfringens” is called the “cafeteria germ” because it may be found in foods served in quantity and left for long periods of time on inadequately maintained steam tables or at room temperature. Prevention is to divide large portions of cooked foods such as beef, turkey, gravy, dressing, stews and casseroles into smaller portions for serving and cooling. Keep cooked foods hot or cold, not lukewarm.

Listeria monocytogenes
Because Listeria bacteria multiply, although slowly, at refrigeration temperatures, these bacteria can be found in cold foods typically served on buffets. To avoid serving foods containing Listeria, follow “keep refrigerated” label directions and carefully observe “sell by” and “use by” dates on processed products, and thoroughly reheat frozen or refrigerated processed meat and poultry products before consumption.