|Produce. Always wash it. Via Wikimedia Commons.|
By Emily Willingham, DXS editor-in-chief
If you've read the stories of contaminated spinach and canteloupe killing people, you might think that it's high time somebody took steps to prevent these kinds of contamination-related outbreaks. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now rolled out two proposals targeting prevention.
Their first proposal is to require all companies that make food, whether in or out of the U.S., to have a contamination-prevention plan in place and a plan at the ready for correcting problems that arise. If you're like me, you might have assumed that kind of requirement was an already-in-place no-brainer, but no. Also, it's hard to see how requiring the plan gives any teeth to prevention. What needs to be required, I'm guessing, is a mechanism to ensure that manufacturers follow the plan. But baby steps, right? At least they look like steps forward.
The second proposal specifically targets developing safety standards for fresh produce. Among the listed goals is ensuring that water for the crops and the people handling the crops are appropriately decontaminated. You'll be relieved to know that also included is a recommendation that livestock grazing--and pooping--on fields be separated in time from using those fields for growing, you know, food you eat.
As is typical for these processes, farmers and other affected groups have a certain period of time to respond to these proposed rules. If and when they go into effect, another period of implementation lasting longer than two years will follow. In other words, we're looking at almost three years, probably, until implementation of these pretty obvious approaches to ensuring food safety. While we wait for the creaky bureaucratic machinery to put the obvious in place, the best we can do is stick with the safest food handling and preparation practices. The US government offers a complete list here, but we give a sampling below:
- When buying food, select your refrigerated and frozen items last. Alas, as we all know, most grocery stores are not set up to make that an efficient process. I'm willing to risk a slightly thawed frozen pizza to avoid having to navigate my way all the way across the supermarket five times.
- Refrigerate your perishables within 2 hours of purchase, or within 1 hour if the temperature is over 90 F. In other words, Texans, six months out of the year, make sure your minifridge is in your trunk, charged up and ready for those groceries.
- Wash your hands between preparations of different foods and use different utensils and cutting boards for preparing produce and meat. I'm not even going to snark on this one, it's so very, very important.
- Cook your meat to the appropriately safe internal temperature, measured with a meat thermometer. For intact veal, lamb, steak, and pork, that's 145 F internal temperature. For ground meats, your target is 160 F, and for all poultry, your target is 165 F.
The greatest risk from food contamination is, of course, intestinal illness. While most people recover from infections with the usual bacterial culprits -- Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli -- some experience a more severe disease called hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which leads to kidney failure. This syndrome is most commonly linked to food-poisoning-related deaths in children, typically because of E. coli contamination, but other bacteria can also cause it. Other serious problems include dehydration, nervous system damage, and swelling around the heart.
The complete proposal text from the FDA is available here.