The Ins and Outs of Food Recall

Posted by escott | Posted in Food Recall, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI, USDA | Posted on 17-09-2013

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In the year between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 610 food recalls in the US and Canada. That’s more food recalls than there are days in a year. But even though recalls are so frequent, many don’t understand how they work or even what they really are. Jessica White-Cason breaks down the process in the article, “Understanding Food Recalls: The Recall Process Explained,” which first appeared on Food Sentry and later appeared on Food Safety News. The article discusses the recall process in a fair amount of detail, but here are the basics.

Food recalls can begin in a few different ways. The most common way occurs when a food company finds a safety problem with its food supply and reports it to one of the agencies that oversees food recall—either the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Other times, recalls start when the FDA or FSIS discovers unsafe food during one of their inspections or sampling programs. The last—and probably the worst—way a recall can start is if foodborne illness breaks out due to a specific food product and a health department reports it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA and FSIS have three classification levels for food recalls. Class I recalls are for the most dangerous food safety problems, the ones with a good chance of hurting people. These recalls are often heavily publicized because the FDA and FSIS want to spread the word in order to prevent anyone from buying or eating the dangerous food. Class II recalls occurr when a food product has a small chance of damaging someone’s health. Class III recalls are essentially the “better safe than sorry” recalls. These happen when there is almost no chance of a food product endangering anyone, but a problem has still been discovered. Although class II and III recalls don’t get much media attention, you can find out which recalls are in progress by visiting the FDA and FSIS websites.

So why does food get recalled? To put it simply, the food either contains something that it isn’t supposed to or it has been labeled incorrectly or incompletely, usually called “misbranding.” For example, food may be recalled because it contains pieces of plastic or traces of a toxic pesticide, or because dangerous bacteria like salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes may have contaminated it. A common example of misbranding happens when a food product contains a common allergenic ingredient like eggs or peanuts, but the label doesn’t say so. Unlabeled allergens, salmonella contamination, and listeria contamination cause the most recalls in the US; last year, salmonella contamination was behind more than one-third of the 610 food recalls.

Once need for a recall has been found, the recalling company works with the FDA or FSIS to make the recall as speedy and effective as possible. In almost all cases, companies with a compromised food supply are eager to make things right; if they don’t, their reputations and business suffer, and they can be shut down by the FDA. In the end, it is the company’s duty to make sure unsafe food is retrieved from the market, and a recall remains in progress until the FDA or FSIS agrees that the safety issue has been resolved.

Katie Heil

Sources: www.foodsafetynews.com, www.fda.gov, www.fsis.usda.gov, www.foodsentry.org

When to Throw It Out: Freezer Food

Posted by escott | Posted in Beef, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI, USDA | Posted on 12-08-2013

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There you are, digging in the freezer for a bag of frozen veggies, when instead you find half a pound of frozen ground beef. How long has it been in there? The color looks a little off, but the packaging is OK. Is the meat still good? To toss, or not to toss—that is the question.

Bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses do not grow in the freezer; so long as the food was frozen safely, it’s still safe to eat. When bacteria are frozen they go into hibernation mode, which keeps them from multiplying to dangerous levels. Freezing food, however, does not remove any toxins released before the food was frozen. So the faster you put perishable food into the freezer, the less time bacteria have to multiply and potentially contaminate the food.

Although freezing food keeps it safe, the quality of frozen food can deteriorate over time. If you suspect that your food has been frozen for a while, check it for freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when air comes in direct contact with a food surface and dries it out, leaving grayish-brown spots on the food.  If freezer burn is mild, cut out the freezer burn spots and use the rest of the item. If the food has heavy freezer burn, the overall quality of the item could be bad enough that you want to toss it out. Remember that ground beef? If it was frozen in a safe condition, it’s still safe to eat when you find it months later, even though it might not be as tasty. As such, consider using it in a spicy dish that will compensate for the beef’s loss of flavor, like tacos or chili.

Next time you find that forgotten freezer item, take a look before you toss it out. Chances are that it’s still good.

To learn more about frozen food and how long food quality lasts in the freezer, visit the Freezing and Food Safety page provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

- Suzanna Davis

Sources: www.usda.gov, Freezing and Food Safety

Tips for a Happy and Safe Barbeque Season

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Beef, E. coli, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, Seasonal, USDA | Posted on 14-05-2013

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Bring on the sunshine and fragrant blossoms of spring! Most of us love this time of year and want to jump for joy that the bleak winter days are behind us. One way a lot of folks celebrate the spring and summer months is to host a family barbeque and do a little grilling. And what better way to celebrate than with some tasty food and the ones you love?

But wait just a minute. Before you pull out the meat and whip up your favorite salads, it’s best to take a little time to review (or learn) how to ensure a safe barbeque and grilling experience. The fact is that when the weather warms up, there is a greater risk of getting foodborne illness. Bacteria tend to grow when food is in the “danger zone” or 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, issues with food safety can occur during the grilling months because it involves a lot of meat. And while meat can be delicious, it can be dangerous if it is not handled properly.

So what are some ways you can make sure your next barbeque is both fun and safe? Here are a few tips:

  • Do not take your food out of the refrigerator until it is time to prepare it. Never leave perishable foods out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Leaving items out at room temperature is just asking for trouble, as bacteria will develop and grow rapidly in this kind of environment.
  • Once you begin preparing your meat, prepare it completely. It is safe to partially cook meat in the microwave in order to speed up the grilling process. But you must then immediately grill the meat in order to ensure its safety. If you choose to prepare your meat this way, preheat your grill in advance, so it is hot and ready to go when your meat is.
  • Check the temperature of your grilled meat to determine that it is completely cooked. Don’t do it by sight. A thermometer works much better (after all, that’s what it was made for.) According to the USDA, ground beef and pork should reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Meats such as lamb and steak should reach 145 F. And poultry should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 F. Undercooking your meat can lead to foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella.
  • As always, be aware of potential cross-contamination issues! Use one plate or platter for raw meat. Once the meat is grilled and ready, do not put it back on the same plate unless it has been thoroughly washed. Raw juices can easily make you or your family sick. In addition, it is a good idea to serve meat on a separate platter than other food items such as salads or veggies. Keeping these foods from mixing will ensure the safety of those who eat them.

So as you prepare for your next gathering, make sure you are prepared with enough platters, a thermometer, and plenty of room in your refrigerator. As you prepare and keep these tips in mind, you’ll be ready to have a delicious barbeque. And even more important is the fact that it will be safe for the ones you love most.

–Angela Bond

Source: usda.gov

Keeping Your Spring Holiday Food Safe

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, Seasonal, USDA | Posted on 05-04-2013

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Ah, it’s officially springtime. The temperature is starting to warm up and folks are beginning to spend a bit more time outside. And with spring also comes holidays such as Easter and Passover. If you are hosting a get-together with family and friends, you have likely been doing a bit of planning. You’ve probably been thinking of the food that will be served as well.  And as always, you need to make sure that the food you prepare is safe to eat by preparing it in a responsible, informed manner.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing your holiday dishes.

Ham:

If you are purchasing a fully-cooked ham for your holiday, look for the USDA or State Mark of Inspection on the packaging. This ensures that your ham is prepared correctly and is safe to eat. As soon as you get home, you should put your ham in the refrigerator until the big day arrives. This is to keep the ham from sitting at room temperature, which can lead to dangerous bacterial growth. It is also important to check your fridge, making sure that the temperature is set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the ham will stay cool enough to stay safe.

If you choose to reheat your ham before serving it, do so at 325 degrees. You need to make sure the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Always check the internal temperature with a thermometer, rather than just assuming it is done. If your ham was repackaged at a butcher shop, reheat until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Beef Brisket:

Another common dish around this time of year is beef brisket. If that’s on your menu, be sure to plan ahead, giving it plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator (never on your counter top.) Thawing a whole brisket, which can be 10 pounds, can take quite a few days to thaw. If it’s smaller, it may only take one day. Either way, thaw it in the refrigerator before cooking. When it comes to meat, you need to take special precautions to keep other food safe in the fridge. This means storing the meat on a pan or something that will catch any juices that may spill or leak. In addition, you should store it on the bottom shelf in the fridge, so juices don’t leak onto other foods. If juices do leak, immediately discard the affected foods. Otherwise, you and your family may be at risk for cross-contamination, which can leave you very sick.

When cooking the beef brisket, bake at 325 degrees in the oven. The internal temperature must reach 145 degrees to be safe to consume. If you need to reheat the brisket, do so at 165 degrees. And if you choose to serve it cold, keep it at 40 degrees. Basically, the temperature must stay out of the “danger zone.” The danger zone is a lukewarm temperature that fosters rapid bacteria growth.

Deviled Eggs:

When preparing deviled eggs, make sure to boil them thoroughly. Then, as you prepare the filling, refrigerate the egg whites. During the party, you should keep the eggs on a tray with ice or in a refrigerator. Never leave eggs out at room temperature for more than two hours. Doing so will increase the chance of bacterial growth, once again posing a health threat for those who eat it.

Being responsible for the food you prepare and serve will keep everyone safe and happy. With these dishes, a main factor is the temperature. It is simply not safe to keep food at a lukewarm temperature. Keeping the dish hot or cold enough is essential to a happy, safe holiday for everyone.

–Angela Bond

Source: USDA.gov

To Salvage or Discard: What Moldy Foods Make the Cut?

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, USDA | Posted on 27-03-2013

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While cleaning out the fridge this weekend, I discovered a spot of greenish fur on the hummus. I wondered if I could salvage the hummus or if I was doomed to eat my bell peppers plain. “Toss it,” said my boyfriend. I shrugged and put it back in the fridge, though I doubt it’s still there.  This begs the seemingly obvious question: what do we toss and what can we salvage? The answer isn’t so obvious. How we handle moldy food depends on the particular food and the severity of the mold.

First and foremost, mold is not as isolated as we think—that is, mold is kind of like a plant.  We only see the green/blue sprouting, but we can’t always detect the root system. To be clear, then, if a product is ever covered entirely with mold, throw it out. Please. Compared to listeria and salmonella, mold may not seem like a major player, but some molds can produce mycotoxins, which are poisonous substances that can cause illness. Plus, mold causes spoilage, and eating rotten food is rarely a good idea.

As you clean out your fridge this weekend, keep in mind what foods you can save and which should land in the trashcan.

Foods to salvage:

  1. Hard cheeses made with and without mold. While hard cheeses can be saved, I’ve always gotten the execution wrong. Because mold has invisible roots, use a clean knife to cut at least one inch around the moldy area. To avoid cross contamination, keep your knife out of the mold and store the restored cheese in new plastic wrap.
  2. Firm fruits and veggies. When I say firm, think bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, etc. Like hard cheeses, hard fruits and veggies are more difficult for mold to penetrate. As with the cheese, cut one inch around and below the mold to be safe.
  3. Hard salami and dry-cured country hams. Apparently mold-covered salami and hams are, uh, normal. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have to remove the mold before consuming. Scrub the mold from the surface and enjoy.

Foods to discard:

  1. Luncheon meats, bacon, hotdogs. Unlike hard salami, these meats have high moisture content and are more likely to be contaminated beneath the surface.
  2. Cooked leftovers. Think meat, poultry, pasta, casseroles, etc. Again—high moisture content means high probability of mold and contamination.
  3. Baked goods and bread. It’s easy to lop off the corner of a contaminated slice, but bread and baked goods are porous, which means the roots have reached far beyond what you can spot.
  4. Peanut butter, nuts, and legumes. Foods processed without preservatives are at high risk for mold.
  5. Soft fruits and vegetables. Think peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupe, etc. Given what we know—that porous, moist foods are at high risk—it makes sense that these foods are particularly risky if left unchecked.
  6. Yogurt, sour cream, and, you know, hummus. These are very wet foods and are therefore hotbeds for mold.
  7. Soft cheese. Think cottage cheese, shredded, sliced, or crumbled cheese. Moisture? Check. Porous? Check. Toss it.

As always, when in doubt, throw it out. There’s no sense in risking your health or your tummy for an apple or pomegranate yogurt or delicious red pepper hummus.

–Whitney Nelson

Source: www.usda.gov