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Blogs

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Food Allergy Awareness and Action

Byline: Adam Ghering, Public Affairs Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: May 14, 2018

May is Allergy Awareness Month and a great time to learn more about food allergies and how to keep those with allergies safe. For 2 percent of adults, and 4 to 8 percent of children in the United States, food allergies are a continuous concern. For these individuals, the immune response their body produces to normally safe items — in this case food — can lead to serious illness and even death. About 90 percent of allergic food reactions are caused by eight foods: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

The only way to prevent these reactions is by completely avoiding foods that contain allergens you are allergic to; however, this can be challenging because we as Americans eat many foods that are comprised of multiple ingredients, and we often eat foods prepared outside our homes by other individuals. Reading and understanding labels along with effectively communicating food allergy risks can be paramount in protecting those with food allergies.

Reading Ingredient Statements on Labels

All food products containing two or more ingredients are required by federal regulations to have an ingredients statement listing all ingredients by common or usual name in descending order of predominance.

Reading ingredient statements on labels is the best way to avoid foods that may contain allergens. For example, some processed meat and poultry products (e.g., hot dogs, chicken nuggets and canned soup) may be formulated with known allergenic ingredients, such as nonfat dry milk or hydrolyzed wheat protein. If USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) discovers an allergen in a meat or poultry product that is not listed in the ingredient statement, the product is recalled.

For more information on recalls, or to receive email notifications when recalls or public health alerts are issued, go to https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts. You can also receive automatic notifications when food safety recalls are announced by the USDA and FDA through the FoodKeeper app.  

What should you do if you believe a food product contains an allergen that is not listed in the ingredients statement?
First, if someone with a known food allergy begins experiencing symptoms during or after eating a food, they should initiate treatment immediately and go to a nearby emergency room if symptoms progress. The prompt administration of epinephrine by an autoinjector (EpiPen) during the early symptoms of anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) may help prevent serious consequences.

For help with meat, poultry and egg products that may have undeclared allergens, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). For help with non-meat food products (cereals, fish, produce, fruit juice, pastas, cheeses, etc.), call or write to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition can be reached at 1-888-723-3366.


 

Give Yourself a Hand!

Byline: Adam Ghering, Public Affairs Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: June 5, 2018

“Clean vs. dirty” is a concept that seems easy enough to understand. You know your jeans are dirty when they get grass stains on them, because you can easily see the stains. Seeing bacteria on your food is a different story. All foodborne bacteria are microscopic and can’t be seen with the naked eye, making it difficult to know if your foods have been cross-contaminated. Bacteria may come into contact with our foods from contaminated cooking equipment, utensils and even our hands. According to the 2016 FDA Food Safety Survey Americans are doing well to prevent cross contamination from some common sources, but not all.

For example, 85 percent of respondents in the survey said they wash their hands after handling raw meat. Ninety percent of respondents said they wash their cutting board, or get a different one, after the cutting board has touched raw meats. Eighty-one percent of participants said they use a different plate than the one that held raw meats to carry cooked items from the grill. But what else might we touch that can transfer harmful bacteria to our foods and make us sick?

Don’t Let Your Cell Phone Take ‘Viral’ to a New Level
Do you ever use your cell phone while preparing or eating food? Phones go everywhere with us now including the ballpark, our gardens, the bathroom… and out to the grill. During these travels, our phones inevitably pick up bacteria. Findings from the FDA survey indicated that 40 percent of respondents who use a telephone, smartphone or laptop while cooking, did not wash their hands and continued to cook after touching their device.

Washing hands after touching any potentially contaminated surface is an easy way to prevent illness. Always wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Focus on scrubbing your palms, between your fingers and underneath your fingertips and then rinse. Our hands are great tools for creating healthy and delicious meals and we can do our part to make sure they don’t transfer bacteria onto our foods.

Veggies Need a Bath, Too
Other  items that people may not clean, but should, are fruits and vegetables. Bacteria can be transferred from the outside of the fruit or vegetable during peeling or slicing, so even if you plan to peel or slice your fruit and vegetables, wash them beforehand with cold running water. If the fruit or vegetable has a firm surface, such as on apples or potatoes, the surface can be scrubbed gently with a brush.

If you have a question about meat, poultry or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline by calling 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email or chat via in English or Spanish via Ask Karen or Pregúntele a Karen.


 

Oh, the Places You'll Go with Food Safety!

Byline: Janell Goodwin, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: May 18, 2018

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!”

Welcome to yet another rendition of the infamous Dr. Seuss tale that you’ve probably heard at your graduation ceremonies and from family and friends. By the time I graduated college, I could basically recite this genius rhyme with my eyes closed. But how could you not?! It’s witty, inspiring, and the perfect gift to any graduate!

Food safety is another gift that I’m sure graduates all over will appreciate on their big day. Why?

Did you know foodborne illness causes an estimated 3,000 deaths each year in the United States?

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” Let’s pretend foodborne illness is that not-so-good street Dr. Seuss forewarned us about. But good news! Food poisoning is completely preventable. Keep you and your loved ones safe during graduation celebrations with these tips!

Doing the Cooking? 

Plan ahead, but don’t purchase perishable foods too early. They may spoil before party day. Be aware of cold food storage times for best quality and safety.

When preparing party food, wash hands and surfaces often.

Grilling Out?

Use separate plates for raw and cooked foods when grilling.

Remember to use a food thermometer. Cooking foods to a safe internal temperature is the only way to destroy bacteria.

Having it Catered?

Use chafing dishes, your oven or slow cookers to keep hot foods hot! Hold at or above 140°F.

Place cold food in containers on ice. Hold cold foods at or below 40°F.

Contrats Grad! 2018

 

Don't Forget the Danger Zone!

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)” But just in case you’re not as optimistic as Dr. Seuss, we’re here to help!

Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.


 

How to Avoid Uninvited Guests at Your Summer Outing

Byline: Archie Magoulas, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: July 10, 2018

In the summertime, as the weather begins to heat up, our microscopic friends, called bacteria, begin to make uninvited appearances at our cookouts, picnics and even camping trips. Sometimes these little friends can be helpful, but other times, they just make you sick.

Bacteria will grow anywhere they have access to nutrients and water. Microorganisms that cause disease are called pathogens. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause foodborne illness.

Under the right temperatures, between 40 and 140°F, bacteria reproduce rapidly. In some cases, they can double their numbers within 20 minutes. The warm temperature, along with the moisture needed for bacteria to flourish, makes the summer weather the perfect atmosphere for bacteria.

That perfect weather, combined with an increase in outdoor activities, and food being prepared in outdoor areas that may lack the safety controls of a home kitchen, could be a recipe for disaster – leading family and friends to get sick.

So play it safe and follow the following food safety recommendations:

  • Never leave food out of refrigeration for more than two hours at room temperature. If the temperature is above 90°F, food should not be left out more than one hour.
  • Keep hot food hot - at or above 140°F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays or slow cookers.
  • Keep cold food cold - at or below 40°F. Refrigerate or place food in containers on ice.
  • If you’ve prepared large amounts of food, divide it into shallow containers. For example, a big pot of baked beans will take a long time to cool, inviting bacteria to multiply, and increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Instead, divide the food into smaller containers and place in the refrigerator or freezer promptly so it will cool quickly.

If you have a question about meat, poultry or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline by calling 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email or chat via in English or Spanish via Ask Karen or Pregúntele a Karen.


 

USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline Keeps You “Food Safe” in the Summer!

Byline: Archie Magoulas, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: July 19, 2018

URL: 

Whether it’s a family BBQ, camping, hiking or going to the beach, summer activities can get hot! When food is a part of those activities, keep in mind the old saying: Safety first!

USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline is here to help you with food safety for all your summer plans. It has been assisting Americans with all types of food safety questions and concerns since 1985. Here are just a few:

Question: I fell asleep and left hot dogs and hamburgers sitting out on the counter all night. If I reheat them, they will still be safe to eat, because I’ll kill all of the bacteria, right?

Answer: No. Cooking these items may kill the bacteria and other organisms, but it does not get rid of the dangerous toxins formed in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Room temperature, of course, is part of that ‘zone.’ Never leave perishable foods out any longer than two hours at room temperature, no longer than one hour when the temperature is 90°F or higher. Those hot dogs and hamburgers left out should be tossed.

Question: We grilled our beef burgers to 160°F, as measured by a food thermometer, but they are still pink inside. Are they still safe to consume? 

Answer: Yes. Ground beef can be pink inside, even after it is safely cooked. The pink color can be due to a reaction between the heat and myoglobin, which causes a red or pink color. It can also occur when vegetables containing nitrites are cooked along with the meat. Because doneness and safety cannot be judged by color, it is very important to use a food thermometer when cooking ground beef. To be sure all harmful bacteria are destroyed, cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F as measured with a food thermometer. For burgers, be sure to insert the thermometer probe into the side of the burger and get close to the center for an accurate read.

Question: What’s the best way to travel with perishable food items that will later be grilled at the park?

Answer: Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. Meat and poultry items may be packed while still frozen, keeping them colder longer. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry at the very bottom of the cooler, wrapped separately from cooked foods and foods meant to be eaten raw, such as fruits. If the cooler is only partially filled, pack the remaining space with more ice or cooling packs. For long trips, take along two coolers — one for immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks or snacks for the car trip, and the other for perishable foods to be used later. Limit the number of times the cooler is opened. Open and close the lid quickly.

Question: I’m planning ahead for my family’s trip to the beach, are there any food safety tips I should consider?

Answer: Good thinking in planning ahead! Take along only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers.  To keep your cooler cool, partially bury it in the sand, cover it with blankets and shade it with a beach umbrella. Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands. If dining along the boardwalk. The “danger zone” is between 40 and 140°F, so don't eat anything that has been sitting out in the hot sun for more than two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F) — that would be an invitation for foodborne illness and a spoiled vacation.

The hotline helps prevent foodborne illness by answering your questions about the safe food storage, handling and preparation. Live food safety experts with backgrounds in food science, nutrition and health science are available to answer your questions.

If you have a question about food safety for your summer activities, call 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, ET. Callers may also listen to food safety messages on various topics, recorded in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day. You can also email or chat via Ask Karen and Pregúntele a Karen.

Last Modified May 07, 2018