September 2011 marks the 17th National Food Safety Education Month (NFSEM), a month-long campaign to heighten awareness about the importance of food safety education for restaurant and foodservice industry. It also provides a wonderful platform and opportunity to reiterate the importance of food safety and food safety education for everyone. This year’s theme for NFSEM is Lessons Learned from the Health Inspection and serves as a reminder that food safety is a shared responsibility among all stakeholders – food manufacturers, government, producers, retailers and consumers.
The IFIC Foundation measures consumer food safety practices in its annual Food & Health Survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers. Notably, in the past four years of the Survey, consumer compliance with food safety practices has been on a steady decline. The decline of these behaviors is concerning as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in six Americans will suffer from foodborne illness this year and that 3,000 people will actually die.
Room for Improvement
In the spirit of NFSEM Lessons Learned from the Health Inspection, consumers can learn and implement best practices in food safety and meet food safety standards just as rigorous as those in restaurants and in food service establishments that help keep harmful bacteria at bay.
Give your home a health inspection. There are four key areas that apply to a home health inspection: (1) proper handling, (2) cleaning and sanitizing, (3) storing of food, and (4) proper handling of utensils and equipment used to prepare food.
- Handling Food: Poor personal hygiene can cause foodborne illness, so it is important to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water both prior to preparing or consuming food and again as hands come in contact with a source of bacteria (such as raw meat or poultry).
- Cleaning and Sanitizing Food Surfaces: Food can leave behind bacteria, so it is important to clean food preparation surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops, to avoid cross-contaminating other foods. Keep food preparation surfaces clean by washing with a soap and water mixture or using a bleach solution and allow the area to air-dry prior to food coming into contact with the surface. Wash the surfaces often and again after the food preparation is complete.
- Storing Food: Food can become contaminated if it is not stored properly. It is important to store and refrigerate leftovers within two hours of when they were prepared and to store them in containers intended for food storage. Another good idea is to label the containers denoting the content and date it was prepared. According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), if cooked leftovers are not eaten within three to four days, throw them out.
- Handling Utensils and Equipment: Bacteria can be transferred from utensils to food. When preparing food, use separate cutting boards for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and for ready-to-eat foods like fruits, vegetables and breads. Once raw meat, poultry or seafood has been cooked to a safe internal temperature, it should be placed on a new or cleaned serving platter, rather than the same one used to hold the raw food. NOTE: Always use a food thermometer to ensure your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature reducing your risk of foodborne illness.
Every time food is prepared, it is important to be mindful of and follow these basic food safety practices. Always wear your health inspector badge and aim to give your home a Grade A home inspection.
Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety
2011 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey
National Food Safety Education Month
Partnership for Food Safety Education