We've Talked About 'Quality.' Where’s the Buzz about Food Safety?

The quality of our food is an important aspect consumers think about when making decisions on what and where to eat. We want food that tastes good and is good for us. Some even prefer to eat food grown under certain parameters (think organic, GMO-free, antibiotic-free, local, etc.). You can’t miss the chatter about the value of “food quality.” However, there is one important message missing: food safety.

In the United States, we have the luxury of assuming that the food we eat is free from bacteria and other contaminants that can make us sick. But, the reality is that the CDC estimates there are 46 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year. Given that, despite the supposed controversy, not a single illness has been proven to have been caused by biotech crops, or safely used food additives and ingredients, we might want to give more thought to the safety of how our food is handled.

The U.S. government has developed a set of guidelines to help keep us safe when handling and cooking food. Some of these seem commonsense, but they can mean the difference between a delicious meal and a trip to the emergency room. Here are some tips to follow:

Clean – It’s important to wash hands and surfaces frequently as bacteria and viruses can easily spread throughout the kitchen and contaminate food. Fresh fruits and vegetables also need to be cleaned before being consumed.

Separate – Raw meats (and their juices) need to be kept separate from other foods, especially ready-to-eat foods, as cross contamination can easily occur.

Cook – Raw foods contain bacteria, but cooking them to a proper internal temperature and for the right length of time can ensure that bacteria is killed before consumption.

Chill – Refrigerating food promptly helps slow the growth of harmful bacteria, reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

While these practices are easily implemented in the home, you may feel like it is harder to know what’s happening at your favorite restaurant. Each state requires that restaurants follow food safety guidelines and ensures compliance with regular inspections. Local public health officials grade restaurants and food vendors on their compliance. These grades are posted on-site and on the local public health office’s website. If you ever fall ill after eating at a restaurant, it’s important to report it to your local public health office so officials can track any potential outbreaks.

With all the marketing buzz about “food quality” coming from restaurants these days, let’s remember that how our food is prepared, not the methods with which it is grown, can and does present the greatest risk to our health and the greatest opportunity to keep ourselves safe.

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