Food Handlers Cause Most Food Poisoning Cases

foodEating out is supposed to be enjoyable. Yet, sometimes the food we eat in a restaurant makes us sick.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated, last week, that the Norovirus spread in restaurants accounts for two-thirds of all food poisoning outbreaks. The Norovirus, the leading cause of food poisoning outbreaks in the United States, sickens at least 20 million Americans a year with vomiting and diarrhea.

They CDC clarified that the Norovirus, often referred to as the “cruise ship virus,” is more often caused by infected restaurant workers than outbreaks on cruise ships, which only accounted for 1% of the more than 1,000 food-borne outbreaks examined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most outbreaks were the result of infected kitchen employees touching food with their bare hands, according to a new CDC agency report. Restaurant workers need better hygiene practices if these outbreaks are to be prevented.

For the report, CDC researchers looked at Norovirus outbreaks caused by contaminated food from 2009 to 2012 and included in CDC’s National Outbreak Reporting System. Restaurants accounted for nearly two-thirds of the outbreaks, and catering or banquet facilities accounted for 17 percent. Among 520 of the outbreaks, food workers were implicated in 70 percent of the cases. Of these, 54 percent involved food workers touching ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands, according to the report.

Among 324 outbreaks in which a specific food was implicated, more than 90 percent of the contamination occurred during final preparation, such as making a sandwich with raw and already cooked ingredients. Another 75 percent occurred in foods eaten raw, such as leafy greens.

Tips for Preventing Food Poisoning When Eating Out

  • Be careful of Salsa – The Center for Disease and Control says that salsa and guacamole are increasingly causing food poisoning since they are often made in large batches and not always refrigerated properly.
  • Avoid Fish on Monday – If the chef bought  fish for Saturday night and didn’t sell out, then by Monday night, it is not so fresh.
  • Check Out the Staff– Cooks and staff should not be wiping their hands on their uniform (which harbors bacteria that can spread to food). Dirty aprons are not a good sign.
  • Avoid Buffets and Salad Bars – The Food Poison Journal puts it bluntly: eat at a salad bar at your own risk.  The Journal says this is one of the main places people get sick in a restaurant. Food in salad bars and buffets are rarely kept to the correct temperature. Also, lots of people touch both the food and the utensils.
  • Beware of Specials – In high-end restaurants, specials can be great fresh meat or fish prepared using a unique recipe. In low-end restaurants, specials are sometimes a way to “fancy up”  meat or fish that’s been sitting around awhile so they can get rid of it.
  • Smell Your Food – Your food has a funny odor or taste, send it back.
  •  Chain Restaurants are Safer- According to MarketWatch, you’re statistically safer if you eat at a chain restaurant as they have much to lose if their diners get sick. Chains havethe  resources to help manage food safety, as well as cleanliness standards that employees must maintain
  • Send it back – If you rmeat is undercooked, send it back.
  • Be aware of the temperature of your food – If the food is supposed to be hot, it should be steaming. If cold, you should be able to feel the coolness. Lukewarm anything is not safe.

Sources: Prevention; June 3, 2014, report, Vital Signs: Foodborne Norovirus Outbreaks — United States, 2009-2012, Journal of Food Poison

 

Sugar Substitutes

sugar substitutesMany of us use sugar substitutes on a regular basis. Which ones are the safest?  The following is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) release on the status of sugar substitutes.

Release…May 19, 2014

Whether it’s to cut down on the number of calories they consume or any of a variety of other reasons, some people use sugar substitutes – also called high-intensity sweeteners – to sweeten and add flavor to their foods. They can be used alone to sweeten foods and beverages such as iced tea or coffee, or as an ingredient in other products. There are a number of sugar substitutes on the market from which to choose.

“Sugar substitutes are called ‘high-intensity’ because small amounts pack a large punch when it comes to sweetness,” says Captain Andrew Zajac, U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), director of the Division of Petition Review at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to Zajac, unlike sweeteners such as sugar, honey, or molasses, high-intensity sweeteners add few or no calories to the foods they flavor. Also, high-intensity sweeteners generally do not raise blood sugar levels.

The FDA has approved a new high-intensity sweetener called advantame.

Advantame—which does not yet have a brand name (such as Sweet’N Low, a brand name for saccharin, or Equal, a brand name for aspartame)—has been approved as a new food additive for use as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods, except meat and poultry.

Examples of uses for which advantame has been approved include baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages (including soft drinks), chewing gum, confections and frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.

How Do You Know it’s  Safe?

FDA is required by law to review all new food additives for safety before they can go on the market. The process begins when a company submits a food additive petition to FDA seeking approval. One exception is for substances “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, because those substances are generally recognized by qualified experts as safe under the conditions of intended use and are exempt from the food additive approval process.

Zajac explains that the agency’s scientists thoroughly review all the scientific evidence submitted by a company to ensure the product is safe for the intended use.

“In determining the safety of advantame, FDA reviewed data from 37 animal and human studies designed to identify possible toxic (harmful) effects, including effects on the immune, reproductive and developmental, and nervous systems,” Zajac says.

Advantame is chemically related to aspartame, and certain individuals should avoid or restrict the use of aspartame. To that end, FDA evaluated whether the same individuals should avoid or restrict advantame, as well.

People who have phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic disorder, have a difficult time metabolizing phenylalanine, a component of both aspartame and advantame. Newborns are tested for PKU using a common “heel-prick” test before they leave the hospital.

Foods containing aspartame must bear an information statement for people with PKU alerting them about the presence of phenylalanine. But advantame is much sweeter than aspartame, so only a very small amount needs to be used to reach the same level of sweetness. As a result, foods containing advantame do not need to bear that statement.

Five Sugar Substitutes Already on the Market:

The last high-intensity sweetener approved by FDA was Neotame (brand name Newtame) in 2002. The other four on the market, and are:

  • Saccharin, was first discovered and used in 1879, before the current food additive approval process came into effect in 1958. Brand names include Sweet‘N Low

  • Aspartame, first approved for use in 1981. Brand names include Equal

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), first approved for use in 1988. Brand names include Sweet One

  • Sucralose, first approved for use in 1998. Brand name is Splenda

In addition to the six sugar substitutes ( high-intensity sweeteners) that are FDA-approved as food additives, the agency has received and has not questioned GRAS notices for two types of plant/fruit based high-intensity sweeteners: certain steviol glycosides obtained from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni) and extracts obtained from Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo or monk fruit.

While these sugar substitutes (high-intensity sweeteners) are considered safe for their intended uses, certain individuals may have a particular sensitivity or adverse reaction to any food substance. Consumers should share with their health care provider any concerns they have about a negative food reaction.

In addition, FDA encourages consumers to report any adverse events through MedWatch: FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program.

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

 

Is Your Home Poison Proof?

poison

March 16 through 22nd  was National Poison Prevention week.

Did you know that roughly 2.4 million Americans are poisoned every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, with more than half under the age of six years? In fact, 9 out of 10 poison episodes occur at home.

Safe Kids Worldwide shares the following tips on keeping your home poison proof:

  • Keep Cleaners and other toxic products out of reach. Store all household products out of children’s sight and reach. Young kids are often eye-level with items under the kitchen and bathroom sinks. So any bleach, detergents, dishwasher liquid or cleaning solutions that are kept there should find a new storage location.
  • Install child safety locks on cabinets where you have stored poisonous items. It only takes a few minutes, and it gives you one less thing to worry about.
  • Read product labels to find out what can be hazardous to kids. Dangerous household items include makeup, personal care products, plants, pesticides, lead, art supplies, alcohol and carbon monoxide.
  • Don’t leave poisonous products unattended while in use. Many incidents happen when adults are distracted for a moment on the phone or at the door.
  • Keep cleaning products in their original containers. Never put a potentially poisonous product in something other than its original container (such as a plastic soda bottle) where it could be mistaken for something else
  •  Throw away old medicines and other potential poisons. Check your garage, basement and other storage areas for cleaning and work supplies you no longer need and can discard.
  • Check your purse for potential hazards. Be aware of any medications or makeup that may be in your handbag. Store handbags out of the reach of young children. Use original, child-resistant packaging
  • Buy child-resistant packages when available.
  • Keep medicines up and away. Make sure that all medications, including vitamins, are stored out of reach and out of sight or children. Even if you are tempted to keep the medicine handy because you have to give another dose in a few hours, don’t leave it on the counter between dosing. Always put medicines and vitamins away after every use.
  • Have Poison Control on Speed Dial!Program the toll-free number for the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222poison800-222-1222) into your home and cell phone and post it near your phone or on your refrigerator for the babysitter. Hopefully, you’ll never need it, but it’s nice to have just in case. Poison control centers offer fast, free, confidential help in English and Spanish. Most poisonings are resolved over the phone. The number works from anywhere in the United States 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  •  If you suspect your child has been poisoned, call poison control. If your child has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911.  Do not make the child vomit or give him anything unless directed by a professional.
  • Check for Lead. Check homes built before 1978 for lead-based paint. If lead hazards are identified, test your child for lead exposure and hire a professional to control and remove lead sources safely. Remove any peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  •  Regularly wash your child’s toys and pacifiers to reduce the risk of your child coming into contact with lead or lead-contaminated dust.  Check www.recalls.gov for more info on product recalls involving lead-based products. Follow the recommendations to eliminate any products such as toys or cookware that contain lead.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm and Identify Signs of Poisoning ! Install a carbon monoxide alarm on every level of your home, especially near sleeping areas, and keep them at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.

For more information go to www.safekids.org

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Chicken Safety Tips from the USDA

chickenGiven that chicken can be prepared so many ways, and is very economical, it is not surprising that it is America’s most popular poultry.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers the following information about buying, storing, preparing and serving chicken:es

* It is not necessary to rinse or soak raw chicken to clean it before cooking. Any bacteria which might be present are destroyed by cooking. Rinsing chicken in the sink might cross-contaminate or spread bacteria throughout the kitchen.

*Fresh or raw chicken should be selected just before checking out of the grocery store. It should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Put chicken packages in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leaking juices which may cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Go right home after food shopping and immediately put the chicken in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within 1-2 days. If you won’t be using the chicken by day 2, freeze it.

*You don’t have to have to re-wrap chicken for freezing. It can be frozen in either its original wrapping or repackaged if you want. If freezing for longer than 2 months, for best quality, you may want to place in a freezer bag or over-wrap with heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper. Either way, once it’s frozen, chicken, and all other raw meats and poultry, are safe indefinitely in the freezer.

*When purchasing cooked chicken, make sure it’s hot upon purchase. Use it within 2 hours or cut it up into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. You can eat the leftovers within 3-4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F, or freeze it. Again, once frozen, the cooked chicken is safe indefinitely in the freezer. For best quality, use within 3-4 months.

*Color is not a good way to determine if cooked chicken is safe to eat. Only by using a food thermometer can you make sure chicken has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. When cooking a whole chicken, you should check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast. And remember, all chicken should be put in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).

Reducing Sodium in Restaurant Foods

 The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shares the following press release reminding us to consider how much sodium we may be consuming when we eat out.

Americans eat out at fast food or dine-in restaurants four or five times a week. Just one of those meals might contain more than an entire day’s recommended amount of sodium.  CDC has strategies for health departments and restaurants to work together to offer healthier choices for consumers who want to lower their sodium intake. The report, “From Menu to Mouth: Opportunities for Sodium Reduction in Restaurants,” is published in today’s issue of CDC’s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease.

sodiumOn average, foods from fast food restaurants contain 1,848 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories and foods from dine-in restaurants contain 2,090 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories.

The U. S. Dietary Guidelines recommend the general population limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke.

“The bottom line is that it’s both possible and life-saving to reduce sodium, and this can be done by reducing, replacing and reformulating,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “When restaurants rethink how they prepare food and the ingredients they choose to use, healthier options become routine for customers.”

The report outlines several ways health departments and restaurants have worked together to offer lower-sodium choices:

  • Health department dietitians help restaurants analyze the sodium content of their foods and recommend lower-sodium ingredients.
  • Restaurants clearly post nutrition information, including sodium content, at the order counter and on menus or offer lower-sodium items at lower cost.
  • Health departments and restaurants explain to food service staff why lower sodium foods are healthier and how to prepare them.

The report also features examples of sodium reduction successes.  In Philadelphia, the health department worked with 206 restaurants to create the “Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative.”  After evaluating menus for sodium content, participating restaurants began choosing lower sodium ingredients and creating lower sodium recipes. After nine months, analyses of two popular dishes offered by 20 of the restaurants showed sodium was reduced by 20 percent.

“The story in Philadelphia shows what can be done,” Dr. Frieden said. “It’s not about giving up the food you love, but providing lower sodium options that taste great.”

To learn more about sodium and how it affects health, visit www.cdc.gov/salt.  Reducing sodium is one way that Million Hearts, a national public-private initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017, is working with communities to keep people healthier and less likely to need health care www.millionhearts.hhs.gov.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES