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Lessons From The Listeria Scare

 

The deadly outbreak of Listeria bacteria in Colorado-produced cantaloupes last monthalarmed parents and families nationwide. Thousands of melons linked to the deaths of more than 15 people in Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas were recalled in one oflisteria the largest food recalls in the nation’s history.

Listeria infection causes listeriosis, a potentially life threatening illness that is largelycontrolled in the United States. But occasional outbreaks do occur. Listeria is often transmitted by animal droppings that contaminate fruits and vegetables grown in the ground. It can also develop in raw milk or cheese, cold salads (like pasta or chicken salad) from a salad bar, or deli meats.

As the holidays approach, it’s a good idea to revisit food safety. FoodSafety.gov, an online repository of recall information, recommends these steps to keep your food (and you) safe:

• Wash your hands often! Wash your hands and any surfaces that food comes into contact with often. Use warm water and soap, and wash for at least 20 seconds.

• Wash fruits and vegetables, not meats and eggs. It may seem like common sense to rinse chicken or fish before preparing it, but research suggests that it makes things worse. As you move the food around your kitchen, bacteria-contaminated water could drip or splash onto your countertops and skinks. Same goes for eggs – commercially sold eggs are rinsed before sale, and extra handling can cause cross-contamination, especially if they become cracked.

• Sanitize utensils and surfaces often. Give your cutting boards and utensils (especially knives) a quick sanitizing bath to prevent contamination. Mix one teaspoon of bleach with one quart of water and spray all over a surface. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then rinse with clean water. For cutting boards and utensils, make a bath of this solution and allow them to soak.

• Don’t cross-contaminate. You’ve heard about using different cutting boards for meats and vegetables. New research suggests going further. Because they’re easily sanitized, plastic, non-porous cutting boards are best. Some experts suggest using a different cutting board for each type of food – produce, poultry, seafood and eggs. Also, ask that your butcher place meats in plastic bags, and store those meats away from other types of food in the refrigerator.

• Cook to the right temperature and keep it there. Invest in a food thermometer and use it. Once your food has been prepared, keep it warm. Use a slow cooker, chafing dish, or warm oven to keep food out of the “Danger Zone” – the 100-degree range (40º F to 140º F) where bacterial growth is highest. Consider the temperature of food when re-heating it. Cold pizza may sound appealing, but make sure you’re re-heating it to 165º F to kill any bacteria.

• Chill food promptly, thaw it right, and know when to throw it out. Keep your refrigerator between 40º F and 32º F and your freezer below 0º F). Don’t thaw foods on the counter (use your microwave or a bath of cool water). And know when you refrigerated foods so you can keep better track of whether it’s gone bad.

 

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