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.

All of us at “Can Do” Street know how important mothers and grandmothers are to children young and old. So…from all of us to all of you…

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Dietary Supplements Are Popular, but are They Safe?

supplementsThe NIH offers a look at dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, botanicals and more. 

When you reach for that bottle of vitamin C or fish oil pills, you might wonder how well they’ll work and if they’re safe. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you need them in the first place.

More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and usually come in pill, powder or liquid form. Common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products, also known as botanicals.

People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements.

“It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian and consultant to NIH. “But dietary supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.”

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups. So talk with your health care provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements.

“You should discuss with your doctor what supplements you’re taking so your care can be integrated and managed,” advises Dr. Craig Hopp, an expert in botanicals research at NIH.

Dietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not as drugs. The label may claim certain health benefits. But unlike medicines, supplements can’t claim to cure, treat or prevent a disease.

“There’s little evidence that any supplement can reverse the course of any chronic disease,” says Hopp. “Don’t take supplements with that expectation.”

Evidence does suggest that some supplements can enhance health in different ways. The most popular nutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium and vitamins B, C and D. Calcium supports bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants—molecules that prevent cell damage and help to maintain health.

Women need iron during pregnancy, and breastfed infants need vitamin D. Folic acid—400 micrograms daily, whether from supplements or fortified food—it is important for all women of childbearing age.

Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. “Vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it,” Haggans says.

Research suggests that fish oil can promote heart health. Of the supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals, Hopp says, “Fish oil probably has the most scientific evidence to support its use.”

The health effects of some other common supplements need more study. These include glucosamine (for joint pain) and herbal supplements such as echinacea (immune health) and flaxseed oil (digestion).

Many supplements have mild effects with few risks. But use caution. Vitamin K, for example, will reduce the ability of blood thinners to work. Ginkgo can increase blood thinning. The herb St. John’s wort is sometimes used to ease depression, anxiety or nerve pain, but it can also speed the breakdown of many drugs—such as antidepressants and birth control pills—and make them less effective.

Just because a supplement is promoted as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. The herbs comfrey and kava, for example, can seriously damage the liver.

“It’s important to know the chemical makeup, how it’s prepared, and how it works in the body—especially for herbs, but also for nutrients,” says Haggans. “Talk to a health care provider for advice on whether you need  supplements in the first place, the dosages and possible interactions with medicine you’re already taking.”

For vitamins and minerals, check the % Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to make sure you’re not getting too much. “It’s important to consider the DV and upper limit,” says Haggans. Too much of certain supplements can be harmful.

Scientists still have much to learn even about common vitamins. One recent study found unexpected evidence about vitamin E. Earlier research suggested that men who took vitamin E supplements might have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. “But much to our surprise, a large NIH-funded clinical trial of more than 29,000 men found that taking supplements of vitamin E actually raised—not reduced—their risk of this disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s why it’s important to conduct clinical studies of supplements to confirm their effects.

Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body. If a product is found to be unsafe after it reaches the market, the FDA can restrict or ban its use.

Manufacturers are also responsible for the product’s purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. But there’s no regulatory agency that makes sure that labels match what’s in the bottles. You risk getting less, or sometimes more, of the listed ingredients. All of the ingredients may not even be listed.

A few independent organizations conduct quality tests of supplements and offer seals of approval. This doesn’t guarantee the product works or is safe; it just assures the product was properly made and contains the listed ingredients.

“Products sold nationally in the stores and online where you usually shop should be fine,” Coates says. “According to the FDA, supplement products most likely to be contaminated with pharmaceutical ingredients are herbal remedies promoted for weight loss and for sexual or athletic performance enhancement.”

To make it easy to find reliable information, NIH has fact sheets on dietary supplements at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/.  NIH also recently launched an online Dietary Supplement Label Database at www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov. This free database lets you look up the ingredients of thousands of dietary supplements. It includes information from the label on dosage, health claims and cautions.

“Deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter,” says Coates. “Learn about their potential benefits and any risks they may pose first. Speak to your health care providers about products of interest and decide together what might be best for you to take, if anything, for your overall health.

Safe Use of Supplements

  • Tell all of your health care providers about any dietary supplements you use. Some supplements can interact with medications or affect medical conditions.
  • Read the label instructions for use.
  • “Natural” doesn’t always mean safe. For up-to-date news about the safety of particular supplements, check http://nccam.nih.gov/news/alerts.
  • Too much might be harmful. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.

Source: NIH News in Health

NIH Office of Communications
and Public Liaison
Building 31, Room 5B64
Bethesda, MD 20892-2094
nihnewsinhealth@od.nih.gov
Tel: 301-402-7337

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Here are Some 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).

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Keeping Your Eggs Safe to Eat

eggs

Eggs are inexpensive, tasty and nutritious, which makes them so popular. However, they need to be handled, prepared and stored properly to prevent food poisoning. According to the US Food and Drug Administration even eggs with clean, uncracked shells may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that about 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with Salmonella. FDA has put regulations in place to help prevent contamination of eggs on the farm and during shipping and storage. But consumers play a key role in preventing illness associated with eggs. In fact, the most effective way to prevent egg-related illness is by knowing how to buy, store, handle and cook eggs — or foods that contain them — safely.
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting 12 to 72 hours after infection. Symptoms usually last 4 to 7 days and most people get better without treatment. However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated quickly with antibiotics. Certain people are at greater risk for severe illness and include pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

FDA requires all cartons of shell eggs that have not been treated to carry the following safe handling statement: 

Safe Handling Eggs

To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly. Eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella — by in-shell pasteurization, for example — are not required to carry safe handling instructions.

You can help keep eggs safe by making wise buying decisions at the grocery store.

  • Buy eggs only if sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
  • Open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
  • Refrigerate promptly.
  • Store eggs in their original carton and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.

Before preparing any food, remember that cleanliness is key!

  • Wash hands, utensils, equipment, and work surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with eggs and egg-containing foods.

Thorough cooking is perhaps the most important step in making sure eggs are safe.

  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny.
  • Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F (72°C). Use a food thermometer to be sure.
  • For recipes that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served — Caesar salad dressing and homemade ice cream are two examples — use either shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method, or pasteurized egg products. Treated shell eggs are available from a growing number of retailers and are clearly labeled, while pasteurized egg products are widely available.

Bacteria can multiply in temperatures from 40°F (5°C) to 140°F (60°C), so it’s very important to serve foods safely.

  • Serve cooked eggs and egg-containing foods immediately after cooking.
  • For buffet-style serving, hot egg dishes should be kept hot, and cold egg dishes kept cold.
  • Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F (74°C) before serving.
  • Cooked eggs, including hard-boiled eggs, and egg-containing foods, should not sit out for more than 2 hours. Within 2 hours either reheat or refrigerate.

Storing Eggs

  • Use hard-cooked eggs (in the shell or peeled) within 1 week after cooking.
  • Use frozen eggs within 1 year. Eggs should not be frozen in their shells. To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together. Egg whites can also be frozen by themselves.
  • Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes and use within 3 to 4 days. When refrigerating a large amount of a hot egg containing leftover, divide it into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.

Transporting Eggs

  • Cooked eggs for a picnic should be packed in an insulated cooler with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep them cold.
  • Don’t put the cooler in the trunk — carry it in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of the car.
  • If taking cooked eggs to work or school, pack them with a small frozen gel pack or a frozen juice box.

Taking steps to handle, prepare and store eggs is critical to preventing food poisoning.

Source: USDA

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Temporary Tattoos May Put You at Risk

The following important message about the safety of temporary tattoos is from the Food and Drug Administration.

Spring break is on the way, or maybe summer vacation. It is time to pack your swim suit, hit the beach, and perhaps indulge in a little harmless fun. What about getting a temporary tattoo to mark the occasion? Who could it hurt to get a temporary tattoo?

It could hurt you, if you actually get one. Temporary tattoos typically last from three days to several weeks, depending on the product used for coloring and the condition of the skin. Unlike permanent tattoos, which are injected into the skin, temporary tattoos marketed as “henna” are applied to the skin’s surface.

However, “just because a tattoo is temporary it doesn’t mean that it is risk free,” says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. Some consumers report reactions that may be severe and long and outlast the temporary tattoos themselves.

tattoosMedWatch, FDA’s safety information and adverse event (bad side effects) reporting program, has received reports of serious and long-lasting reactions that consumers had not bargained for after getting temporary tattoos. Reported problems include redness, blisters, raised red weeping lesions, loss of pigmentation, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and even permanent scarring.

Some reactions have led people to seek medical care, including visits to hospital emergency rooms. Reactions may occur immediately after a person gets a temporary tattoo, or even up to two or three weeks later.

Not Necessarily Safe

You may be familiar with henna, a reddish-brown coloring made from a flowering plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia. Since the Bronze Age, people have used dried henna, ground into a paste, to dye skin, hair, fingernails, leather, silk and wool. This decoration—sometimes also known as mehndi—is still used today around the world to decorate the skin in cultural festivals and celebrations.

However, today so-called “black henna” is often used in place of traditional henna. Inks marketed as black henna may be a mix of henna with other ingredients, or may really be hair dye alone. The reason for adding other ingredients is to create tattoos that are darker and longer lasting, but use of black henna is potentially harmful.

That’s because the extra ingredient used to blacken henna is often a coal-tar hair dye containing p-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that can cause dangerous skin reactions in some people. Sometimes, the artist may use a PPD-containing hair dye alone. Either way, there’s no telling who will be affected. By law, PPD is not permitted in cosmetics intended to be applied to the skin.

You may see “black henna” used in places such as temporary tattoo kiosks at beaches, boardwalks, and other holiday destinations, as well as in some ethnic or specialty shops. While states have jurisdiction over professional practices such as tattooing and cosmetology, that oversight differs from state to state. Some states have laws and regulations for temporary tattooing, while others don’t. So, depending on where you are, it’s possible no one is checking to make sure the artist is following safe practices or even knows what may be harmful to consumers.

A number of consumers have learned the risks the hard way, reporting significant bad reactions shortly after the application of black henna temporary tattoos.

  • The parents of a 5-year-old girl reported that she developed severe reddening on her forearm about two weeks after receiving a black henna temporary tattoo. “What we thought would be a little harmless fun ended up becoming more like a nightmare for us,” the father says. “My hope is that by telling people about our experience, I can help prevent this from happening to some other unsuspecting kids and parents.”
  • The mother of a 17-year-old girl agrees. “At first I was a little upset she got the tattoo without telling me,” she says. “But when it became red and itchy and later began to blister and the blisters filled with fluid, I was beside myself.” She explains that as a nurse, she’s used to seeing all manner of injuries, “but when it’s your own child, it’s pretty scary,” she says.
  • And another mother, whose teenager had no reaction to red henna tattoos, describes the skin on her daughter’s back as looking “the way a burn victim looks, all blistered and raw” after a black henna tattoo was applied there. She says that according to her daughter’s doctor, the teenager will have scarring for life.

If you have a reaction to or concern about a temporary tattoo or any other cosmetic, in addition to recommending that you contact your health care professional, FDA asks you to contact MedWatch, the agency’s problem-reporting program. You can also call 1-800-FDA-1088 to report by telephone, or contact the nearest FDA consumer complaint coordinator in your area or a problem with tattoos.

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