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Handwashing 101

July 17th, 2013

handwashingHandwashing is one of the most effective means to reduce the spread of infectious disease. It also helps protect against food borne illness outbreaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately half of all food borne illness outbreaks is due to people not washing their hands properly.

A recent study at Michigan State University found that only 5 percent of people (consumers, not food service workers) in a college town using restrooms properly washed their hands. The study observed over 3,000 people after they had gone to the restroom and discovered that about 10 percent (384 people) skipped washing their hands all together and about one-third (33%) did not use soap. Of those who did wash their hands, the average time spent doing so was about six seconds. The recommended time by the CDC is 15 seconds.

To properly wash your hands follow these steps:

  1. Wet hands to help loosen dirt, oil, and germs.
  2. Apply soap, preferably antibacterial, to remove the dirt, oil, and germs from hands.
  3. Rub your hands together for 15 to 20 seconds to make sure all parts of both hands are washed. Don’t forget about cleaning around your fingernails, which
  4. are ideal for trapping dirt and germs.
  5. Rinse off all the soap and loosened dirt from the hands under running water.
  6. Dry your hands with a clean, dry towel or by using a hand dryer.

For more information on safe handwashing look at the ISU Extension and Outreach “5 Myths of Handwashing” publication.

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Is It Still Good? Tossing Food That Has Expired

March 26th, 2013

Deciding what food is safe to eat and what food should be tossed can be confusing, given the various terms used with dates printed on food containers. The USDA Foodmilk expiration
Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) defines each of the terms as follows:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

For safety concerns, these dates are more important for perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. It is recommended to use food by the “use-by date.” Smelling food to determine if it is safe is not always effective. Many bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Even if you think the food— such as lunch- meat—smells and looks fine, it is best not to consume after the “use-by” or expiration date. If you want to keep the food longer than that date, freeze it. Milk that has been properly refrigerated (40 degrees F) is safe to consume for one week past the “sell by” date.

For concerns about canned foods, high-acid foods (such as tomatoes or pineapple) will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods (such as meat, fish, or vegetables) will retain the best quality if used within 2 to 5 years. These rules apply only if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the first in, first out (FIFO) method to be sure the oldest cans are used first. When putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. It is recommended that home-canned foods be used within one year for best quality.

Additional Resources

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Mail Order Food Safety

October 24th, 2012

Convenience means different things to different people; to many it means saving time. Food delivered by mail is a popular, convenient gift idea. Because ordering food through the mail may cause concern about food safety, it’s imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when it arrives.mail order food This is especially true for perishable foods that must be handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.

The following will help determine if the foods have been handled properly.

  • Make sure the company meets state or federal requirements for mail delivery.
  • Make sure the company sends perishable foods with a cold source, such as dry ice.
  • Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient. Food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
  • Open packaged food marked “Keep Refrigerated” immediately and check temperature of items:
    • The food should arrive frozen or with ice crystals still visible or refrigerator cold—below 41°F as measured with a calibrated food thermometer.
    • Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold.
    • If perishable food arrives warm — above 41°F, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food. Responsible companies will reimburse you or send another package.
  • Don’t have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available to keep it cold.

If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, the following organizations can provide help.

  • USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (1-888-674-6854) (meat, poultry, and egg products)
  • FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366 weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)

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September is Food Safety Month

September 12th, 2012

“Be Safe — Don’t Cross-Contaminate” is the theme for Food Safety month.handwashing

Cross-contamination is the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object, or place to another. Preventing cross-contamination is a key factor in preventing foodborne illness. Be sure to follow a game plan for food safety when you tailgate this fall:

  • Before handling food, wash hands and utensils thoroughly with hot soapy water.
  • When packing the cooler, be sure raw meat and poultry are wrapped securely to prevent their juices from cross-contaminating
    ready-to-eat food. Have separate coolers; keep beverages separate from food.
  • When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry.

Remember—“Be Smart, Keep Foods Apart.”

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Is it Done Yet?

June 26th, 2012

meat donenessResearch suggests the color of meat and its juices are not accurate indicators of doneness. Ground beef may turn brown before it has reached the temperature at which bacteria are destroyed.

Preparing hamburger patties and relying on visual signs such as color to determine doneness increases the risk and likelihood of food poisoning.

A hamburger cooked to 160°F (165°F for ground poultry) measured with a food thermometer throughout the patty, is safe — regardless of color.

Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service

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What’s your Beef?

June 5th, 2012

Recently, social media outlets (e.g., Facebook) and news media have discussed “Lean Finely Textured Beef” ground beef(LFTB), which has unfortunately been labeled “pink slime.” Many Americans are left wondering if LFTB is safe. The answer is yes, LFTB is safe.

What is Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB)?
LFTB is a beef product that results from using food processing equipment to separate the small, irregular-shaped pieces of lean meat from fat trimmings left over after larger roasts, steaks, and other cuts are removed from a beef carcass.

Are these products regulated and inspected?
Yes. LFTB is beef, and all beef products are strictly regulated and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). LFTB products have a 20-year excellent food safety record.

How are these lean beef trimmings processed?
The trimmings are first heated to about 100°F to soften and separate the fat from the meat. The lean meat is then treated with a puff of food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. The result is a very low fat (95+% lean) beef product that is added to foods such as ground beef, sausage, and lunch meats.

Is it true that these trimmings previously were used only for pet food and oil and were unfit for human consumption, as one media outlet claimed?
Trimmings were used for pet food and oil. Advancements in food processing technology 20 years ago, however, facilitated the recovery of a high quality protein that had previously been used in pet food. Recovery of this protein makes more efficient use of our limited food supply and contributes to a more sustainable food system.

Why is ammonia used to produce lean finely textured beef?
Food grade ammonium hydroxide (basically ammonia + water) differs from household ammonia used in cleaning products. Ammonium hydroxide, FDA approved since 1974, is used in many food products such as puddings, gelatins, cheese, breakfast cereals, egg products, and baked goods, and can occur naturally in food.

Because they are ground up, ground or blended beef products carry a higher risk for foodborne pathogens to be introduced throughout the product, making them less likely to be killed during cooking compared with those on the surface of wholemuscle cuts.

A puff of the ammonium hydroxide gas is used in the processing of LFTB to raise the pH and help control harmful bacteria that may be present. These bacteria could make someone ill if the product were not cooked thoroughly.

When any form of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is blended into ground beef, will it be labeled?
Because it is 100% beef, LFTB is not singled out as a separate ingredient on ground beef packages. Beef is beef.

What do the experts say about its safety?
Experts such as Dr. Gary Acuff at Texas A&M University and Dr. John Floros at Pennsylvania State University have examined these products and say that all forms of lean finely textured beef are safe when produced in compliance with USDA regulations.

What do the food safety data show?
USDA data show that the incidence of E. coli in fresh ground beef has been declining significantly over the past decade. The number of USDA ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 dropped 55 percent between 2000 and 2010. Lean finely textured beef products have been a part of that success story.

For more information, visit:

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Food Safety: Home-Canned Salsas

May 28th, 2012

Cooks love to experiment with salsa recipes and many want to preserve their winning combination by canning. Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods (such as onions and peppers), with high-acid foods (such as tomatoes).

The type and amount of ingredients as well as the preparation method are important considerations to safely preserve homemade salsa. Improperly home-canned salsas or other tomato-pepper combinations have been implicated in botulism poisonings. A USDA-tested recipe using the type and amount listed for each ingredient can ensure a safe, home-canned salsa. salsa

Changing the type or amount of ingredients alters the acidity of the product, making it unsafe. If you have a personal favorite that is not a tested recipe, it is best to eat your creation fresh, store it up to one week in the refrigerator (40°F or below), or freeze it. Most salsas should retain good quality for up to one year in a freezer maintained at 0°F.

Acidity – Acid ingredients help preserve canned salsas and make them safe to store on the shelf. The acids are usually commercially bottled vinegar (at least 5% acidity) or lemon juice. The amount of vinegar or lemon juice in a recipe for canning cannot be reduced.

Tomatoes – Paste tomatoes, such as Roma, have more flesh or solid tissue, producing thicker salsas. Select only disease-free, preferably vine-ripened, firm tomatoes. Do not can tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines.

Peppers – Use only high quality peppers, choosing your favorite such as sweet bell, jalapeno, habanero, etc. Do not exceed the total amount (pounds or cups) of peppers in any recipe.

Spices and Herbs – Amounts of spices and herbs in these recipes (black pepper, salt, oregano, pickling spice, dried red pepper flakes, and ground cumin) may be altered.

Other – Red and yellow onions may be substituted for each other. Do not exceed the total amount of onions in any recipe.

Food Preservation Publications and Recipes:

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Food Safety: Avoiding Cross-Contamination

May 17th, 2012

Chicken on cutting boardCross-contamination is a potential risk when preparing a variety of foods. It happens when harmful bacteria from one food, especially raw meat, is transferred to another food. It usually happens when cutting boards, knives, counter tops, and your hands are not washed after handling each food item.

Steps to prevent cross-contamination include:

  • When shopping, keep produce and meats separate by putting each in plastic bags. Make sure the grocery bagger keeps them separate as well.
  • Always use a clean cutting board. If possible use different boards for fresh produce and raw animal products. Also, do not use excessively worn cutting boards; replace them.
  • Wash dishes and counter tops with hot soapy water before and after preparing each food item. When refrigerating food, make sure juices from raw meat and other animal products do not drip onto other foods. Keep them in sealed plastic bags or containers and stored below ready-to-eat food items.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling food, allowing about 20 seconds while using soap and warm water.

Get more information on how to avoid cross-contamination.

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Tips for Fresh Produce Safety

January 17th, 2012
  • washing vegetablesMake sure fruits and vegetables do not touch surfaces exposed to raw meat or poultry.
  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables under running water before cutting, cooking, or combining with other ingredients.
  • The water should be slightly warmer than the produce.
  • Take time to thoroughly wash uncut leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach. Remove outer leaves and pull the greens completely apart; rinse thoroughly.
  • Many precut, bagged produce items (like lettuce) are pre-washed. If the package indicates the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.
  • Even if you plan to peel produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Refrigerate sliced melons, cut tomatoes, and cut leafy greens at 41° F or lower. These foods have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks and need refrigeration for safety.
  • Do not serve raw seed sprouts to high-risk populations. This would include elderly people, infants and preschool children, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.
    For additional research-based, unbiased information on food safety, visit: www.iowafoodsafety.org

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Celebrating Holidays with Food Allergies

December 21st, 2011

Holidays that revolve around food can be a challenge for families with food allergies.
The traditional holiday meal can present numerous allergy risks — and the risks can be
even greater if you aren’t preparing the meal yourself. Is there any way around the
stress and pressure of a holiday known for allergen-laden foods?

For hosts

  • Ask guests about their dietary needs. If other guests are bringing food, be specific about food restrictions of your guests and offer ideas for safe options. Instead of saying “gluten free crackers,” which may be difficult to find, give brand names or tell guests where they can be found.
  • If you prefer to prepare all the foods yourself to avoid allergic reactions and your guests want to bring something, suggest holiday cups, plates and napkins, or unpeeled fruit that is safe to eat.
  • Wash your hands often after handling foods to avoid cross contamination between
    an allergen and other foods.

For guests

  • Remind your child when being offered a food item that may contain an allergen, to politely decline the offer and say “I’m sorry, but I cannot eat ______. Thank you anyway.” Tactfully inform your host in advance of food allergies or dietary needs and the possibility that you may bring your own foods.
  • In all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, don’t let your guard down regarding safety. Don’t take any chances; verify all ingredients and read all labels to ensure safety.
  • Home-baked goods are a treat around the holidays, but if you are a guest with a
    food allergy, talk to your host about foods you can bring that are allergen safe.

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