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.

 

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.

 

Heart Healthy Foods

healthyHealthfinder.gov suggests you follow these eating tips for a healthy heart:

  1. Eat less saturated and trans fat. Stay away from fatty meats, fried foods, cakes, and cookies.
  2. Cut down on sodium (salt). Look for the low-sodium or “no salt added” brands of canned soups, vegetables, snack foods, and lunch meats.
  3. Get more fiber. Fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Take this list with you the next time you go food shopping.

Healthy Vegetables and Fruits

Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. To save money, buy vegetables and fruits that are in season, frozen, or canned.

  • Fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and spinach
  • Leafy greens for salads
  • Canned vegetables low in sodium (salt)
  • Frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces
  • Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches
  • Canned fruit in 100% juice, not syrup
  • Dried fruit
  • Frozen berries without added sugar

Healthy Milk and Milk Products

Look for fat-free or low-fat milk products. Or choose soy products with added calcium.

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Cheese (3 grams of fat or less per serving)
  • Soy-based drinks with added calcium (soymilk)

Healthy Breads, Cereals, and Grains

For products with more than one ingredient, make sure whole-wheat or whole-grain is listed first.

  • 100% whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals like oatmeal
  • Whole grains such as brown or wild rice, barley, and bulgur
  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta

Healthy Meat, Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

Choose lean cuts of meat and other foods with protein.

  • Seafood, including fish and shellfish
  • Chicken and turkey breast without skin
  • Pork: leg, shoulder, tenderloin
  • Beef: round, sirloin, tenderloin, extra lean ground beef
  • Beans, lentils, and peas
  • Eggs and egg substitutes
  • Nuts and seeds

Healthy Fats and Oils

Cut back on saturated fat and look for healthy products with no trans fats.

  • Margarine and spreads (soft, tub, or liquid) with no trans fats
  • Vegetable oil (canola, olive, peanut, or sesame oil)
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Light or fat-free salad dressing and mayonnaise

 

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.

Tips from Those in the Know

USDAThe United States Department of Agriculture,USDA has an extensive site for parents of preschool and elementary school age children featuring comprehensive nutrition plans, daily meal and snack plans for parents to reference and games that children can play that stress good eating habits. Go to:

http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/consumers/ages-stages/preschool-elementary-kids

USDA

Got a picky eater? The USDA has extensive information that can help parents get the picky eater to eat food necessary for good nutrition at

http://wicworks.nal.usda.gov/children/picky-eaters

Another great USDA site to visit for a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan, the  ability to track your foods and physical activities to see how they stack up and to get tips and support to help you make healthier choices and plan ahead is:

https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/default.aspx