Myths about Keeping Food Safe in the Refrigerator

refrigerator

September is National Food Safety Education Month and consumers need to know that myths about keeping food safe in the refrigerator aren’t true.

Myth 1: I know my refrigerator is cold enough – I can feel it when I open it! Anyway, I have a dial to adjust the temperature.

Fact:  Unless you have thermometers built into your fingers, you need to use a thermometer to ensure your refrigerator is at or below 40 °F.  And that dial? Important, but it is not a thermometer.

As many as 43% of home refrigerators have been found to be at temperatures above 40 °F, putting them in the food safety “danger zone” where harmful bacteria can multiply and make you and your family sick!

Slow the growth of bacteria by using a refrigerator thermometer to tell if your refrigerator is at 40 °F or below. And if it isn’t?  Use that dial to adjust the temperature so it will be colder. Then, use your refrigerator thermometer to measure again.

Myth 2:  Cross-contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator – it’s too cold in there for germs to survive!

Fact:  Bacteria can survive and some even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator.

In fact, Listeria bacteria can grow at temperatures below 40 °F! A recent study showed the refrigerator produce compartment was one of the “germiest” places in the kitchen, containing Salmonella and Listeria.

To reduce the risk of cross-contamination in your refrigerator:

  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Clean up food and beverage spills immediately, and
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly with hot water and liquid soap.  Don’t forget to clean the refrigerator walls and undersides of shelves!

Myth 3: I left some food out all day, but if I put it in the refrigerator  now, the bacteria will die.

Fact:   Refrigerator temperatures can slow the growth of bacteria, but will not stop the growth of bacteria in food. 

If food is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, putting it into the refrigerator will only slow bacterial growth, not kill it. Protect your family by following the 2-hour rule—refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cut fresh fruits and vegetables, and all cooked leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 ºF.

While refrigeration does slow bacterial growth, most perishables will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator. To keep perishables longer than a few days—like most meat, poultry and seafood—you can freeze them.

Myth 4:  I don’t need to clean my refrigerator produce bin because I only put fruit and vegetables in there.

FACT:   Naturally occurring bacteria in fresh fruits and vegetables can cause cross-contamination in your refrigerator.

A recent NSF International study found that the refrigerator produce compartment was the #1 “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens!  To prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, it is essential to clean your produce bin and other bins in your refrigerator often with hot water and liquid soap, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean cloth towel or allow to air dry outside of the refrigerator.

For more myths and facts about food safety, go to:
www.fightbac.org/food-safety-education/home-food-safety-mythbusters/

 

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The Unwanted BBQ Guest

June 08, 2015

By Crystal McDade-Ngutter, Ph.D., Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

It’s summer time! Break out the swim suit, sunglasses, sandals and grill. Not only is summer peak season for backyard barbeques, it is also prime time for foodborne illnesses. Bacteria grow fast at warmer temperatures and can make you sick—leaving you with not so good memories of your family barbeque this summer.

Listeria monocytogenes is a dangerous bacterium that you should be on the lookout for all year round—especially in the summer months. Listeria can cause a foodborne illness called listeriosis. It can grow at refrigeration temperatures and is one of the deadliest foodborne illnesses.

Pregnant women are more likely to be affected by Listeria than healthy people. In fact, they are about 10 times more likely than the general population to get listeriosis. Listeria can be passed to your unborn baby, even when you show no sign of sickness. It can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, and death in newborns.

During pregnancy, it is important to be aware of the foods you are eating. Listeria is commonly found in ready-to-eat foods. These foods include:

  • Soft-ripened cheeses (traditional Mexican-style cheeses, Camembert, Brie, Feta, and Ricotta);
  • Raw vegetables;
  • Store-brought salads (ham, chicken, tuna, and seafood);
  • Deli meats; and,
  • Hot dogs (a barbeque favorite).

If these foods can’t be reheated or cooked, pregnant women should avoid eating them.

Hot dogs are a certainty at any barbeque. For this reason, it is important to keep Listeria from lurking in your hotdogs especially for pregnant guests, their unborn babies, and newborns. Here are a few tips to keep your grilled hot dogs in tip-top shape:

  • Never eat hotdogs straight out the package as a pre-BBQ snack—hot dogs must always be heated to 165°F or higher before eaten.
  • Wash hands after handling hot dogs from the package.
  • Avoid getting hot dog juice from the package on other foods, utensils, or preparation surfaces.
  • After grilling hot dogs, keep the temperature at 140°F or higher until served.
  • Make sure leftover hot dogs are refrigerated or put on ice two hours after they are removed from the grill or one hour if the temperature is over 90°F. When you reheat them, heat them to 165?F or higher.
  • Leftover hot dogs that have been refrigerated should be eaten within three to four days.

Properly cooking hot dogs WILL help keep Listeria from making a surprise appearance at your backyard BBQ.

Please visit www.foodsafety.gov for more information about food safety and direct food safety questions to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or www.AskKaren.gov.

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Pets Can Get Sick From Being Fed Raw Foods

The FDA warns about feeding our pets raw foods. In a recent article, this is what they had to say about what can occur when we do.

raw

Raw pet food consists primarily of meat, bones, and organs that haven’t been cooked, and therefore are more likely than cooked food to contain organisms that can make your dog or cat sick, says William J. Burkholder, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Medical Officer in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Division of Animal Feeds. Moreover, raw food can make you sick as well if you don’t handle it properly. FDA does not believe feeding raw pet foods to animals is consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks.

The agency therefore recommends cooking of raw meat and poultry to kill harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes before you give the food to your pets. And as always, when working with food, you should follow FDA’s instructions on how to handle it safely.

Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in such foods as raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs and egg products. Salmonella can also contaminate raw or unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, as well as raw fruits and vegetables.

Burkholder says people who choose a raw diet for their pets often point out that feral dogs and cats catch prey and eat it raw. “That’s true,” he adds, “but we don’t know how many of these animals get sick or die as a result of doing that. Since sick feral animals are rarely taken to a veterinarian when they’re ill, there’s no way to collect that information.”

Symptoms of salmonellosis in animals include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased activity level

Listeria bacteria are commonly found in uncooked meats, vegetables and unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria like cold temperatures and can grow and spread in the refrigerator. So if you refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family members would be exposed to Listeria and get sick.

Symptoms of listeriosis in animals include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Neurological disease can happen in a small percentage of situations

Consumers also run the risk of getting sick if they handle contaminated pet foods and accidentally transfer the bacteria to their mouths.

“If you’re going to handle raw foods, you need to pay particular attention to good hygienic practices,” Burkholder says. “Wash your hands and anything else that comes into contact with the product with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.” Feeding raw food to a pet also increases the risk of contaminating food contact surfaces and other places.

“Even if the dog or cat doesn’t get sick, they can become carriers of Salmonella and transfer the bacteria to their surroundings, and then people can get the disease from contact with the infected environment,” Burkholder says.

Once Salmonella gets established in the pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the animal can shed the bacteria when it has a bowel movement, and the contamination will continue to spread.

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) symptoms in humans include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Stomach pain
  • More rarely: entry of Salmonella into bloodstream from intestines, followed by spread to joints, arteries, heart, soft tissues, and other areas of body

Symptoms associated with salmonellosis most often begin 12 hours to 3 days after ingestion of the bacteria and can last 4 to 7 days without treatment. All consumers are at risk for contracting salmonellosis from contaminated foods, but pregnant women, children under five, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are at risk of developing severe symptoms.

Compared to salmonellosis and other foodborne illnesses, infection with Listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis) is rare, but has serious and potentially fatal risks.

Listeria can infect multiple locations in the body:

  • The brain
  • Membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Bloodstream

Symptoms associated with listeriosis begin 11 to 70 days after coming in contact with the bacteria, with a mean (or average) of 31 days, and they can last up to a few weeks. Listeriosis occurs almost exclusively in pregnant women and their fetuses, newborns, the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Listeriosis can cause life-threatening infection in a fetus and newborns, as well as in persons with weakened immune systems, although the infection can often be treated with antibiotics.

“Feeding raw foods to pets increases the risk that both the pet and the people around the pet will encounter bacteria that cause foodborne illness, particularly if the products are not carefully handled and fed,” Burkholder says. “This is certainly one factor that should be considered when selecting diets for your pet.”

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

June 30, 2014

 

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Serving Safe Summer Foods

With summer not far off, most of us think about serving more quick and easy suppers. Many of us foodschoose to serve more ready to eat foods.

The following article, which recently appeared in on the FDA’s Consumer Updates page,  is about protecting your family from a bacteria called Listeria. This bacteria has been linked to a number of ready to eat foods.

If you eat food contaminated with Listeria, you could get so sick that you have to be hospitalized. And for certain vulnerable people, the illness could be far worse.

Contaminated food can bring Listeria into the home. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria germs can grow and spread in the refrigerator. So if you unknowingly refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family will become sick.

Those most at risk for listeriosis—the illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes—include pregnant women, older adults and people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

What foods could be contaminated?

Listeria has been linked to a variety of ready-to-eat foods, including deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared deli-salads. A draft study released May 10, 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) evaluates the risk of listeriosis associated with foods prepared in retail delis. There are many steps that deli operators and processing establishments that supply food to delis can follow to reduce the risk of listeriosis.

FDA and FSIS recommend that consumers at risk for developing listeriosis—including older adults, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems—reheat hot dogs and lunch meats until steaming hot.

At-risk consumers are also advised to avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses (such as feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheeses, “queso blanco,” “queso fresco” or Panela), unless they are made with pasteurized milk.

And Listeria can sometimes be found in other foods. In 2011, a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis tied to contaminated cantaloupes caused illnesses and deaths.

Donald Zink, Ph.D, senior science advisor at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says FDA is aware of cases of foodborne illness caused by bacteria that can live in the kitchen and spread to foods that had not been contaminated.

Consumers are advised to wash all fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking, even if you plan to peel the produce first. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.

To further protect yourself and your family from Listeria, follow these steps:

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Keep Refrigerated Foods Cold

Chilling food properly is an important way of reducing risk of Listeria infection. Although Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures, it grows more slowly at refrigerator temperatures of 40 degrees F or less.

  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer at 0 degrees F or lower.
  • Wrap or cover foods with a sheet of plastic wrap or foil or put foods in plastic bags or clean covered containers before you place them in the refrigerator. Make certain foods do not leak juices onto other foods.
  • Place an appliance thermometer, such as a refrigerator thermometer, in the refrigerator, and check the temperature periodically.  Adjust the refrigerator temperature control, if necessary, to keep foods as cold as possible without causing them to freeze. Place a second thermometer in the freezer to check the temperature there.
  • Use precooked and ready-to-eat foods as soon as you can. The longer they are stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria has to grow.

“If you have leftovers in your refrigerator, it’s best to throw them out after three days, just to be sure,” says Zink. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

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Clean Refrigerator Regularly

Listeria can contaminate other food through spills in the refrigerator.

  • Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away—especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry. Consider using paper towels to avoid transferring germs from a cloth towel.
  • Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with warm water and liquid soap, then rinse. As an added measure of caution, you can sanitize your refrigerator monthly using the same procedures described below for kitchen surfaces.

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Clean Hands and Kitchen Surfaces Often

Listeria can spread from one surface to another.

  • Thoroughly wash food preparation surfaces with warm, soapy water. As an added precaution you should sanitize clean surfaces by using any of the kitchen surface sanitizer products available from grocery stores, being careful to follow label directions.

You can make your own sanitizer by combining 1 teaspoon of unscented bleach to one 1 quart of water, flooding the surface and letting it stand for 10 minutes.  Then rinse with clean water.  Let surfaces air dry or pat them dry with fresh paper towels.  Bleach solutions get less effective with time, so discard unused portions daily.

  • A cutting board should be washed with warm, soapy water after each use. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards can be washed in a dishwasher.
  • Dish cloths, towels and cloth grocery bags should be washed often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • It’s also important, to wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.

 

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