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By: Christine Bruhn, PhD Date: 2/1/12

New Year’s Resolutions are often hard to keep. People can avoid the “sins” of the past for a short time, but long term adherence to the good life is tough. A commitment to act in accordance with safe food handling, however, doesn’t require any big sacrifices, and it can mean a better life for you and those you cook for.

Food safety guidelines are centered on the concepts,  clean, separate, cook and chill.  I recommend an additional guideline; choose food for safety.

Clean: Be sure there is soap at the kitchen sink. Wash your hands with soap before cooking, after handling raw animal products and before touching anything that is ready to eat. Remember to wash the water faucet handle, kitchen sink and utensils, too. Dry with a clean paper towel or freshly washed and bleached cloth towel. Wash produce with running water just before eating, and pat dry with a clean paper towel.

Separate: Keep ready to eat foods separate from unwashed foods and raw animal products.

Cook: Make sure a safe internal temperature is reached by checking with a food thermometer. Ground beef and most casseroles should reach 160F, while ground poultry should reach 165F. Don’t rely on food appearance or recipe directions! One out of four burgers is brown on the outside before they reach 160F.  Television chefs don’t use food thermometers because they don’t feed what they cook to their families. You do, so be sure do everything you can to keep them safe!

Chill: Some bacteria can even grow (slowly) at refrigerator temperatures. Be sure your refrigerator is 40F or colder. Buy a refrigerator thermometer to check. Store highly perishable items in the main body of the refrigerator, and reserve the warmer drawer area for longer life items like condiments.

Choose Food for Safety:

There is no evidence to support the belief that locally grown or organic foods are safer than conventionally grown foods. The key is how the food is handled; specifically, temperature control, cleanliness of the facility and adherence to safe handling recommendations.

Food processing can enhance safety while maintaining nutritional quality. Some people believe that fresh tastes best, but it is not necessarily superior when it comes to safety or nutritional value. Nutrient analysis shows that canned and frozen produce are comparable to fresh for most nutrients. Don’t feel guilty about buying canned or frozen food. Select what fits your budget, life style and taste preferences, while keeping your family safe!

Food processing can enhance safety. Pasteurization of milk is one of the pillars of public health, with a hundred-year record of reducing illness and death caused by drinking raw milk. Pasteurization and other processes are being applied to juice to reduce the potential for foodborne illness. High pressure is also used by some companies to maintain fresh flavor while destroying pathogens and extending shelf life.

Personal commitments like this don’t guarantee that you will never suffer from foodborne illness. Bacteria are part of our environment: hazardous bugs can be on nutritious foods and they can also be found in unexpected places.  But by following common sense steps, you can have piece-of-mind that you are doing everything you can to prevent yourself or your family from becoming victims of foodborne illness.  What are you doing to ensure your food is safe in 2012? 

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