Last week I told you about some egregious food safety mistakes made by professionals in the public eye. I read every food magazine published, watch as many food shows as I can, and browse dozens of food blogs. And every week, I see a food safety mistake. And I contact the magazine, network, or blog responsible for the mistake; I almost never hear back from them.
The problem with these mistakes is not just that they show a lack of education about food safety. These errors promote dangerous practices that will increase the number of foodborne illnesses in this country and around the world. Food poisoning already costs the United States $78 billion each and every year. More than 120,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illness every year.
So we’re starting a new feature today: Food Safety Bloopers. I hope that by publicizing these bloopers we’ll raise awareness among the general public that even if food advice appears in a magazine or on television, that doesn’t mean it’s right.
The July issue of Woman’s Day magazine is the focus today. An article on the best ways to save money on food and other expenses listed advice from “experts”. Consumers were told to save money by buying bruised peaches and nectarines, even though “you can’t eat the bruised part”.
Studies by the FDA have found that produce that is cut and bruised has a higher pathogen load. In fact, in Chapter 4 of Analysis and Evaluation of Preventive Control Measures on Fresh Produce the FDA states that, “survival of foodborne pathogens on produce is significantly enhanced once the protective epidermal barrier has been broken either by physical damage, such as punctures or bruising.”
Medical bills from foodborne illness will far outweigh any savings from buying damaged produce, especially since in 2011, one-third of all foodborne illness outbreaks were caused by produce.
Another tip told consumers to look for ground beef that is put on sale because it is near the expiration date. The tip said that if ground beef is brown it is still safe to eat and that “bad” ground beef “glows fluorescent green”. Completely wrong. Beef that is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria does not look, smell, or taste any different from beef that is still (relatively) safe to eat.
And the USDA says that “if all the meat in the package has turned gray or brown, it may be beginning to spoil.” Furthermore, using ground meat that is near its expiration date may be too risky for those in high risk groups, such as the elderly, those with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, and the very young. Food safety experts recommend that you purchase perishable foods with an expiration date as far into the future as possible. And some bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking. A higher bacterial load may mean more heat-resistant toxins.
The recipes in Woman’s Day also recommended that hamburgers be cooked to medium. That practically guarantees that you’re going to feed your family burgers contaminated with live bacteria. Ground beef must always be cooked to well done, or 160 degrees F, because bacteria that is always present on the surface of beef is mixed throughout the product when beef is ground.
Finally, a vendor in the Taste of Charlotte event, Mital Naik, said that at the Brazz Steakhouse, they always wash their meat before cooking as an “extra precaution against E. coli.”
Meat should not be washed before cooking, for two reasons. First, washing meat greatly increases the odds that you will cross-contaminate your kitchen. One drop of water splashing onto the countertop or the sink handle from the meat can contain enough bacteria to make your entire family sick. The USDA says that raw meats should not be washed before cooking.
And second, washing does not remove all of the bacteria from the meat’s surface. Only cooking will destroy bacteria in (and on) meat.
If you see a food safety error, let me know about it! Hopefully we can improve the level of food safety knowledge in this country.