January 19, 2018

Farm Rich E. coli Outbreak Can’t Be Blamed on Consumers

Farm Rich Recall E coliThe outbreak of E. coli O121 linked to recalled Farm Rich products is unusual. The ingredients that make up the frozen mini meals and snacks are precooked (chicken, pepperoni, and cheese) and are simply assembled to make a product that is reheated before consuming.

No foodborne illness can be blamed on the consumer. Manufacturers have the legal responsibility to produce safe food.  The law states that manufacturers are responsible for making and selling food that will not make consumers sick, but this has happened over and over again.

The food you buy should not be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately, manufacturers put the burden on the consumer to heat the food to a safe temperature. This so called “consumer kill step” has been the subject of many government studies and guidelines for the packaged food industry and consumers. A food safety article from the University of Minnesota extension gives guidelines for the consumer on how to cook frozen foods. Very few people know that these foods need to be heated to kill bacteria, not just heated so they taste good.

Again, manufacturers are responsible for illnesses caused by their products, but the continued failure to provide safe food means you need to protect yourself and your family by making sure all foods that you prepare are as safe as possible.

Not many people know that any processed food carries risk of contamination simply because it moves through many venues as it travels from the manufacturing facility to the kitchen. Contamination with pathogenic bacteria can happen at any time along that journey, from the facility itself to the packaging line to handlers to shipping outlets.

When cooking frozen convenience foods, read and follow cooking instructions carefully. A product should be labeled “raw product”, “uncooked”, “ready to cook” or “contains uncooked poultry.” Some frozen foods look as if they are fully cooked, even when they are not, because they are breaded or pre-browned.

You should also pay attention to microwave wattage. Label instructions are developed for certain wattage, and cooking times vary according to how powerful your microwave oven is. If you don’t know the wattage, use a food thermometer to make sure that the food reaches 165 degrees F before you eat it.  Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the product. If the food hasn’t reached 165 degrees F, continue cooking it. Be sure to wash the thermometer with soap and water before you recheck the temperature. And follow stirring, rotating, and standing times carefully. These are developed to cook the food as evenly as possible.

 

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