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Dietitians Dish: Good hand washing, proper cooking, important to prevent foodborne illness

By Lisa Hagan
June 26, 2012 at 1:26 a.m.

Lisa Hagan

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in six Americans will get sick with a foodborne illness every year. Symptoms range from mild abdominal cramps to a life-threatening illness.

Those who are more susceptible to infection should be cautious to ensure food is safe. They include children, pregnant women, the elderly and those who are immune compromised. Good hand washing and proper cooking are important to prevent foodborne illness, but many steps can be taken to ensure food safety even before foods are brought home.

When entering the grocery store, wipe down the cart with an antibacterial wipe. Many stores already provide these wipes at the entrance of the store. One reason for this precaution is that children can come into contact with residuals from raw meats.

Follow a pattern that decreases the time that chilled foods are exposed to warmer temperatures. Pick up non-perishable items before the refrigerated or frozen foods. Section the cart into non-perishable, produce, refrigerated foods and raw meats.

When purchasing produce, check for foods that are free from bruises, cuts or mold. It is best to inspect each produce individually. If produce is bagged, look for bags that allow you to see the food.

Contaminated produce is always a risk, so wash fresh fruits and vegetables before consuming. Include washing produce before peeling. Rinse oranges, avocados and cucumbers before peeling.

Use the "sell by" date on the foods to guide your choices. If the "sell by" date has expired, do not buy it. Keep in mind how the food will be stored and when it will be consumed.

Inspect eggs before you buy them. Check to make sure the egg carton is cool to the touch, that all eggs are intact and clean. Even though the eggs may appear fresh and clean, avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs. Salmonella can still pose a threat.

The stop to the deli should be one of your last stops before exiting the store. Remember when purchasing deli poultry, it should be eaten within three days and red meats should be eaten within seven days. Avoid purchasing deli meat if it will not be consumed within this time period.

Examine the ice crystals on the frozen packages. Large crystals are an indication that the item has been previously thawed. When purchasing cooked seafood, such as boiled shrimp, check to make sure that it is in its own show case or separated from the raw seafood.

Raw seafood should never be stored with cooked seafood. Choose fish that is shiny, firm and have a mild, fresh fish smell. If the bones are visible, check to make sure the bones are not receding from the meat.

Many grocery stores now have a salad bar. Inspect the salad bar for well-packed ice or refrigeration. Try to eat foods on the day of purchase. If this is not possible go early for a fresh portion or ask for a fresh sample.

During check out, bag foods into similar groups. Always group the raw meats together away from the other foods. Transport foods in the back seat instead of the hot trunk of the car.

Consider transporting foods in a cooler if necessary. Once home, store foods right away and enjoy knowing that measures have been taken to ensure food safety.

Lisa Hagan is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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