PRESS RELEASE: May 27, 2011
SUMMER FOOD THAT'S SAFE TO EAT
"Milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish – these items don't seem hazardous, but they do have potential," cautions Carla Hobbs, Director of the Environmental Health division of the Hunterdon County Department of Health. With this year's summer season upon us, it's a prime time to consider that serious health problems can begin not only with the food on the table but also how it is kept and prepared. Following just a few safety steps can help ensure that meals are safe to eat.
"It's essential that these potentially hazardous foods be kept in a safe temperature range," explained Hobbs. "That means 135 degrees Fahrenheit and above when holding hot foods that were prepared correctly and 41 degrees Fahrenheit and below when refrigerating the products. It's the temperatures between these points in which potentially harmful bacteria can grow in food ."
Expanding on this notion, John Beckley, Hunterdon County health officer, said: "We call the 41-135 degree Fahrenheit range the ‘Danger Zone.’ Disease-causing organisms, if they're present, are able to rapidly multiply within this temperature range. Many raw foods, including fruit and vegetables, some meats and particularly poultry , carry these bacteria into your kitchen. Fortunately, proper cooking processes will kill most of them."
Some 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from food borne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common infections are those caused by Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 – organisms that are found in animals. Norovirus, another common cause of illness, is spread person-to-person, and is not found in animals. Food borne illnesses can cause fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. In some cases, they can cause more serious health problems, even fatalities. For example, infection with E. coli O157:H7 can cause severe, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, other severe complications and death.
Keeping food safe begins with shopping. Dairy, meats and seafood should be picked up last to minimize the amount of time these products are out of refrigeration. Raw meat products should be placed in plastic bags to prevent dripping and possible contamination of ready-to-eat foods. When storing raw meat at home, place it in a pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to reduce the threat that potentially contaminated juices come into contact with other foods.
Clearly, ground or "chopped" meat and poultry are among the most popular food items served at barbecues. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these items when bought fresh can be kept in the refrigerator for two days. When bought frozen, defrost the items by moving them into the refrigerator and allowing approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of product. Never thaw frozen food by keeping it out of refrigeration, for example on the back porch, in the basement or on the kitchen counter.
"Special care is recommended when cooking hamburger," said Hobbs. "The food industry rule for temperature and time says one minute at 155 degrees Fahrenheit; at 160 degrees, bacteria are eliminated almost immediately. But you want to make sure the entire meat product is exposed completely to these temperatures. On grills, sometimes only the meat in its center will be thoroughly cooked." Health experts recommend checking internal temperatures of meats by using a probe-style thermometer .
During and following food preparation, remember to wash hands to prevent cross contamination. "We also recommend sanitizing all utensils and kitchenware that touch any potentially hazardous raw food products," advised Hobbs. "This can be done by using one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water." Meat and poultry leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and moved into the refrigerator immediately for rapid cooling. This is critical for minimizing harmful growth of bacteria. Likewise, the USDA recommends rapidly reheating leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter before serving again.
For more information regarding food safety, contact the Hunterdon County Health Department at 908-788-1351 or the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 and visit the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.