Posts Tagged ‘Food Safety’

Foodborne Illnesses Keep Rising, Government Report Finds

July 9th, 2014 at 11:15 am by timigustafson

Summer is the time for picnics, barbecues and outdoor cooking. Unfortunately, it is also a time when more people fall ill from food poisoning due to warm temperatures and unsafe storing and handling of perishable foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some foodborne illnesses have increased by 75 percent since the agency conducted its last survey less than a decade ago.

The CDC estimates that every year about one in six Americans (or 48 million) get sick from eating spoiled food items; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food-related diseases. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

While the number of salmonella cases, the most common foodborne illness, has actually slightly dropped in recent years, vibrio infections or vibriosis from uncooked seafood like raw oysters and sushi have become much more widespread, possibly due to the growing popularity of these fares.

Attributing any illness to certain foods is complicated, experts say, simply because there are thousands of different edibles we consume in many varieties and combinations even in a single meal. Therefore, in most cases, it is difficult if not impossible to identify what particular food is responsible for someone to get sick, says the CDC.

However, individual food items can be categorized in different groups, which can help investigate the origins of outbreaks, alert consumers, and draft better food safety regulations, according to the agency. For this, it has developed a list of 17 categories, also called commodities, based on the nature of the food source in question. In every outbreak analysis, scientists try to determine in hierarchical order whether the source came from livestock or livestock products, seafood, or plant-foods.

The best approach to limiting food poisoning occurrences, of course, is prevention through careful storage and handling. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that people thoroughly wash their hands before and after touching food, especially raw animal products like meat, fish, and poultry. The same goes for the utensils and cooking ware that are used to prepare them.

Proper refrigeration of perishable foods – such as all uncooked or undercooked meat and seafood as well as eggs and dairy products – is equally as important. Leaving these items exposed to warm temperatures for too long, whether on route from the grocery store or during preparations, can cause spoilage that may not be immediately noticeable but can still have negative consequences. Experts recommend never to consume foods you are not certain about in terms of freshness or time of expiration. Do not hesitate to discard anything that looks or smells suspicious, or you know has been stored unsafely. Your and your loved ones wellbeing is not worth the risk.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Use of Pesticides Continues to Make Some Foods Unsafe for Consumption

April 28th, 2013 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson

An apple a day used to keep the doctor away, at least according to folk wisdom. But not any more – unless it’s organically grown. Apples top the list of foods contaminated with pesticides, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization, in its annual report called “The Dirty Dozen™.”

The listing of foods that may have toxic levels of pesticides is part of the group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce, which draws its data from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even after washing, more than two thirds of the tens of thousands of food samples tested by the agencies showed pesticide residues. The most contaminated fruits were apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches and imported nectarines. Among vegetables, the most contaminated were celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

The contamination levels varied significantly between different foods. Potatoes had a higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop. A single grape tested for 15 different pesticides. So did sweet bell peppers.

Corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in processed foods, does not appear in the EWG’s guide because as such it’s no longer considered a fresh vegetable. Neither is soy. Still, concern over pesticide contamination should also include processed items.

In addition to its notorious “Dirty Dozen™” rating, the EWG also publishes a list of the least contaminated foods, called the “Clean Fifteen™.” These show the lowest levels of pesticide residues and are generally safe for consumption. They include pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit, corn, onion, avocado, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

Pesticides have long been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly to developmental problems in young children. Some pesticides have been found to be carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There are currently about 350 different pesticides registered with the government and permitted for use on food crops. Among the most toxic ones are organophosphate, a potent neurotoxin that can adversely affect brain development in children, even at low doses; and organochlorine, a once widely used pesticide that is now officially banned but still persists in the environment and continues to pollute plant foods grown in contaminated soil.

Particularly disconcerting is that pesticides have been found in processed baby food. For example, green beans used for baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including organophosphate, and pears showed more than twice as many.

While there is only so much consumers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones against the exposure to pesticides and other toxins in their food supply, it is important to have the information available that allows for better-informed choices. Buying organically grown produce may be the best option, but it’s not affordable for everyone. Mixing both organic and regular foods can be a workable compromise, thereby avoiding the worst offenders and limiting the damage to your budget with the rest.

In addition, you may also want to visit your local farmers market once in a while. Ask the farmers about their farming methods and whether they use pesticides. Some small farms may not be certified “organic” because of the costs involved but still adhere to eco-friendly procedures.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Food Safety First

November 25th, 2012 at 1:54 pm by timigustafson

Enjoying delicious food is at the center of nearly all holiday celebrations, regardless of social, cultural or religious background. Festive banquets, sumptuous buffets and overflowing dinner tables invite to indulge. However, with so much food put out, there is also a heightened danger of contamination that can result in sometimes serious, even fatal food-borne illness. Whether you eat out in a restaurant, partake in a catered office party or cook up a storm at home, chances are you encounter items that are not agreeable with your digestive system.

Fortunately, most food-borne infections only cause stomach cramps, vomiting and a day or two of diarrhea – but nothing more serious. Still, out of the nearly 50 million Americans who on average fall sick from spoiled food every year, 128,000 were hospitalized and 5,000 died in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Treating cases of acute food poisoning costs the United States a whopping $152 billion per year in healthcare, missed work and other economic losses, says a report by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trust.

According to the CDC, food-borne illness, also known as “food poisoning,” is a common but largely preventable public health problem. There can be many different kinds of infections caused by a wide range of pathogens that contaminate food. In addition, there are poisonous chemicals and other harmful substances that can do equal damage. Currently, over 250 different food-borne diseases have been identified by the agency. Besides through food, infections can spread through unsafe drinking water, water people swim in, and even person-to-person contact.

Raw animal food products spoil the easiest and fastest. Raw meat, seafood (especially shellfish), poultry, eggs and unpasteurized milk are prime candidates for contamination. The risks multiply when items consist of parts from many individual animals such as ground beef or raw milk that often come from hundreds of different sources.

Fruits and vegetables are also of concern when they are consumed uncooked, unpeeled, unwashed or washed in unclean water. Exposure to fertilizers, especially manure, can result in E. coli and salmonella, to name just two of the most common illnesses. If there are pathogens in or on fruit used for fruit juices, even those can be contaminated if they are not pasteurized.

Contamination can also occur when the people who handle the food don’t take the necessary precautions. Dirty kitchens and unsound cooking techniques are often a cause for food spoilage. And so is improper refrigeration.

While you can only hope for the best when eating out, you can reasonably safeguard your food at home, especially when you are in charge of the kitchen. Here are a few rules you should always observe, according to the CDC:

Cook meats and seafood thoroughly. Even if you like your steak less than well done, make sure it gets exposed to heat high enough to kill bacteria on the outside and avoid contamination of the center from improper handling.

Wash lettuce and all salad ingredients you consume raw in clean water and peel fruits whenever possible.

Always clean hands, utensils, cutting boards, plates and kitchen counter surfaces after they’ve come in touch with raw meat or fish.

Refrigerate perishables as soon as possible and don’t keep them unnecessarily exposed to room temperature during preparation.

If you get sick and have symptoms of food poisoning, see your doctor.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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