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By: Katie Burns   Date: 8/1/11

Registered dietitians are aware of the science behind the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and are knowledgeable of the impact poor diet can play on one’s health, but an important component of food and health that is often overlooked or oversimplified is food safety.  A significant public health issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths per year in the United States related to foodborne illness. 

Food safety doesn’t strengthen your bones; it won’t help manage your weight, nor will it help you run faster and jump higher.  However, it does play an important role in disease prevention and overall health and wellness.  Unfortunately, the IFIC Foundation 2011 Food & Health Survey has shown a steady decline in safe food handling practices by consumers:

• CLEAN: Only about 80% of Americans report washing their hands with soap and water  and only 71% report washing cutting boards when preparing food or getting ready to eat;
• SEPARATE: Less than two-thirds of Americans separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, and only about half use different cutting boards for each product.
• COOK: While 68% of Americans indicate they cook their food to the required temperature, less than 30% report using a food thermometer to check the food’s doneness.
• CHILL: Nearly 70% of Americans report storing leftovers within two hours of serving.

While the majority of Americans are not seeking out registered dietitians to learn about food safety, only 2% stated they had received food safety information from a registered dietitian, according to the 2011 Food & Health Survey,  the basic food safety practices of “clean, separate, cook and chill” can easily be attached to nutrition messages.  After all, “food isn’t nutritious unless it’s safe!”

• Enjoy your food. 
     o CLEAN: When you’re getting ready to eat or make a meal, wash your hands with soap and water.  You’ll enjoy your food so much more knowing you’ve taken a step to keep it safe, plus it will allow you to slow down and think about the food you’re about to eat—just one more way to be mindful about what you eat!

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
     o SEPARATE: When preparing your meal, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs (and their juices) away from ready-to-eat    foods like fruits and vegetables.

• Choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry.
     o COOK: When preparing your meat or poultry dish, use a food thermometer to determine when it has reached a safe internal temperature (high enough to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness).  This will prevent you from over-cooking it and will keep you safe! Visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education for a list of safe internal temperatures.

• Eat less and avoid oversized portions.
     o CHILL: After serving the first helping, put leftovers into containers and refrigerate.  This helps avoid the growth of the bacteria that causes foodborne illness and also keeps you from going back for seconds!

These are just a few practical ways to incorporate food safety into the basic nutrition messages of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.  What are some other ways to make food safety fun and interesting?
 

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