The standard USDA recommendations for food safety should be followed with even greater zeal during times of potential pandemic. To refresh everyone’s memory, the guidelines are:

Clean: Always wash hands and surfaces that have come in contact with meat and poultry products before and after handling food.

Separate: Do not cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other foods.

Cook: Using a food thermometer is the only sure way to know that meat and poultry have reached the proper temperature to inactivate bacteria and viruses.

Chill: Refrigerate or freeze all perishable food promptly.

However, there are some more practical tips that can help you stay safe from H1N1 or any other influenza type of virus, as well as other infectious agents. These tips are well worth paying close attention to and following religiously:

Rare hamburgers should never be eaten. Ever!

When dining at a buffet or potluck remember that you should never consume any type of perishable or refrigerated food that has been left at room temperature for a period of time which exceeds 2 hours. This time period decreases if it’s warmer outside and becomes only an hour at 32 C / 90 F.

One third of all people admit to eating pizza the next day that has spent the night at room temperature! Don’t do it!

With many supermarkets and delicatessens placing small samples of food out for tasting, most people don’t realize that those tasty little nuggets have come into contact with the potentially contaminated fingers of countless other customers.

There is a very easy rule for tartares, carpacci, sushi, sashimis, and raw shellfish: Don’t eat them!

Some dried or cured meats can harbour countless germs. Avoid them during times of potential pandemic.

Who is the gourmet chef who decreed that duck at pricy restaurants should be served rare? He/she should be made to eat it! You should never attempt to eat any poultry unless all of its cooked juices are running clear and don’t have a single trace of blood at all. Rare fowl, birds, or poultry of any kind is a one way express ticket to flu illness.

Don’t purchase (or eat) produce with mold, bruises or cuts.

Get a calibrated thermometer and use it whenever you’re cooking anything. Read the rest of this entry »

Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, which often start a few days after consuming contaminated food or drink. The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and go away without treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to those most at risk:

  • older adults
  • infants and young children
  • pregnant women
  • people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune systems
  • Practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness: Clean, separate, cook, chill. Read the rest of this entry »

    A new Ipsos/McClatchy poll of Americans indicates mixed feelings regarding food safety efforts in the United States, problem areas, and the amount of responsibility various parties should have with respect to food safety.

    Overall, few Americans give food safety in the United States a good grade. Asked to rate food safety according to ‘school grades’ (A, B, C, D, or F), only one in ten (11%) give food safety a grade of ‘A.’ Additionally, only 54% rate food safety as an ‘A’ or ‘B.’ Nearly half of Americans (46%) give food safety a fair, poor or failing grade (34% ‘C’, 9% ‘D’, 3% ‘F’).

    Asked to rate food safety now compared to six months ago, a majority (57%) think the situation is about the same as six months ago. However, the proportion of Americans who believe food safety has gotten worse (28%) is nearly twice as large as the group who feel that food safety has gotten better (15%). Read the rest of this entry »

    A federal law that takes effect today will require supermarkets and other big food retailers to label or otherwise display the country of origin for meat, produce, and certain kinds of nuts.

    Sounds great right? After all most of us do want to know where our food comes from. The new law will should help us choose food from countries we feel are safe, and avoid countries that may have less than optimal food safety standards. If only it were that simple.

    For starters the labels won’t apply to meat or produce that has been cooked or processed. Plain ground beef must carry a label, but if a package contains a blend of meats from several countries, the rules don’t require the countries to be listed in order of the percentage of food they contributed. A salad package containing different kinds of leaf lettuce will have to be labeled, but a package containing different kinds of vegetables, such as peas and carrots, won’t. Fresh strawberries get a label but not chocolate-covered ones. Raw peanuts? Label. Roasted ones? No label. Those popular pre-washed salad mixes? Sometimes. Read the rest of this entry »

    Behold the featherless chicken, created by Scientists at the genetics faculty at the Rehovot Agronomy Institute near Tel Aviv, Israel. The idea behind the development of this naked bird is that it will create a more ‘convenient’ and energy efficient chicken that can live in crowded environments like factory farms. Not growing feathers saves energy that can be used to grow meat.

    Think there’s no way this sad version of a chicken could end up as your next meal? Think again. This past week the FDA opened the way for genetically engineered chickens, salmon, cows, and other fish and animals to move from the laboratory to your dinner table, unveiling an approval process that would classify the modified creatures as drugs. No labels will be required.

    “There is no special labeling requirement simply because the animal itself was engineered,” says Randall Lutter, a deputy commissioner for policy.

    FDA regulates GE animals under the “new animal drug” provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), FDA’s regulations for new animal drugs. Companies are not required to alert consumers when antibiotics, hormones, or other drugs are used in raising the animals.

    The decision does not affect cloned animals or their offspring, which earlier this year were declared safe as a food source by the FDA.

    Many experts fear that the proposed regulations do not go far enough to protect and reassure the public. In particular, they argue that the approval process would be highly secretive to protect the commercial interests of the companies involved and that the new rules do not place sufficient weight on the environmental impact of what many consider to be Frankenstein animals. Read the rest of this entry »

    When packing lunches to take to school or the office, keep the following food safety tips in mind:

    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least twenty seconds before you prepare food or after playing outside, touching pets and using the bathroom. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing hands to make sure you are washing long enough to send germs down the drain!
    • Work on a clean surface. To prevent cross-contamination, always use a clean cutting board. Use one cutting board for fresh produce or bread and a separate one for meat, poultry and seafood.
    • Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry with a paper towel.
    • If lunches are made at home the night before, keep them in the refrigerator until it’s time to go. Make sure the refrigerator is 40° F or below at all times and use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature. Read the rest of this entry »

    In a decision handed down yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa pending a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Court determined that the planting of genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers.

    Although the suit was brought against USDA; Forage Genetics and Monsanto Company entered into the suit as Defendant-Intervenors. In her opinion, Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder held that Monsanto and Forage Genetics contend that the District Court disregarded their financial losses, but the district court considered those economic losses and simply concluded that the harm to growers and consumers who wanted non-genetically engineered alfalfa outweighed the financial hardships to Monsanto and Forage Genetics and their growers.

    This ruling affirms a major victory for consumers, ranchers, organic farmers, and most conventional farmers across the country, said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. Roundup Ready Alfalfa represents a very real threat to farmers livelihoods and the environment; the judge rightly dismissed Monsanto claims that their bottom line should come before the rights of the public and Americaís farmers. This ruling is a turning point in the regulation of biotech crops in this country. Read the rest of this entry »

    Without a nationwide traceability system for fruits and vegetables, identifying food contamination sources has been slow, inaccurate and difficult.

    Recent outbreaks have threatened public health and damaged the image and sales in the fresh produce industry, according to Rabobank’s “U.S. Food Safety in Fresh Produce” report.

    “Several factors play a role in the severity and awareness of food contamination outbreaks in the fresh produce sector: media, increasing consumption, imports of fresh produce and changing population demographics,” said Rabobank Analyst Marieke de Rijke who examines U.S. food safety in the report and podcast.

    Much of the recent attention on food safety was brought on by an outbreak between April and July where more than 1,300 people in 43 states were infected with salmonella. Read the rest of this entry »

    If your electricity goes out, try not to open either your refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary. A closed refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours as long as the door remains tightly closed.

    Before a severe weather emergency, keep the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer as low as possible. Pack foods in the freezer close together so the items form an icy block that will maintain cold.

    Food safety rule No. 1, said LSU AgCenter food safety expert Beth Reames, is: “Discard all food that comes in contact with floodwaters, including canned goods. It is impossible to know if waterlogged food containers are damaged or the seals compromised.”

    Store at least three gallons of water per person for drinking, cooking and hygiene for at least three days. Read the rest of this entry »

    Starting Sunday, Russia, the top market for US chicken exports, will be banning imports from at least 19 US poultry plants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the bans in an interview with CNN, citing what he said were ignored warnings about inspections.

    “The inspection showed that many companies had not taken measures to remove flaws revealed during previous checks,” Russia’s agricultural regulator said in a news release.

    The Russian Government also said the US uses too many antibiotics in chicken-rearing, and cited cases of salmonella found in recent imports.

    Russia has imposed several temporary bans on pork and poultry from various US producers in recent years.

    Plants affected include at least two owned by Tyson (the nation’s largest chicken producer), two from Sanderson Farms Inc. (the nation’s fourth largest chicken producer), a Jennie-O Turkey plant owned by Hormel Foods Inc., and other companies not named at this time. Read the rest of this entry »