The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Food Safety

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 Years ago I had a friend who decided she would cook a meal for her roommate and me. When I arrived at their apartment, I took a seat at her kitchen table and watched the preparations. She pulled the raw chicken from it's plastic wrapping, set it on the counter, then opened a cupboard and grabbed some spices. With the hands she used to pick up the chicken. Without washing them in between. From there it got worse. The entire time she cooked, she did not wash her hands. She went from touching chicken to wiping her hands on a towel by the sink, to continue handling the rest of the food. Needless to say, when the food was ready, I feigned being full. I made up some story about having eaten a late lunch. Somehow I got away with it. My friends did not become ill (although I was ill watching her contaminate every surface in her kitchen), and I was in actuality famished, but my main rule has always been: Keep things clean, dummy! I have had food poisoning, from fried fish. It was awful. I thought I was dying. My insides were turned outside and I sweated and cried. Even had my mom come over and take care of me even though I was a married adult. That's how bad it was.
Common food illnesses (according to www.foodsafety.gov) are:
1)   salmonella—this can be found in contaminated eggs, poultry, and meat as well as dairy products, raw fruits, sprouts and vegetables, spices and nuts. To avoid this, make sure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperatures, and that milk and cider are pasteurized. Also, wash off utensils and plates that have touched raw meat before using them to handle the cooked product. Chill foods promptly.
2)   Norovirus—this can be found in shellfish and produce and, sick as this sounds, the feces or vomit of an infected person. To prevent infecting others, always wash hands before handling any food, or wear disposable gloves (you can purchase some on www.amazon.com, that’s where I buy mine).
3)   Campylobacter—a very common form of food poisoning. Found in raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
4)   Toxoplasmosis—a parasite. According to the food safety site mentioned above, “more than 60 million people in the United States have the parasite.” It’s only problematic for those with weak immune systems or for unborn babies when the mother is infected for the first time. You can find this in undercooked meat, anything that has had contact with raw meat, cat feces (if the animal has the parasite), contaminated water, or in either an organ transplant or a blood transfusion from an infected individual. To prevent this, wash your hands thoroughly, wash produce well, and pregnant women should avoid changing litter boxes.
5)   E. Coli—can be found in undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized juice and milk, soft chesses made from raw milk, and raw fruits and vegetables, especially sprouts, which pregnant women should avoid. It can also be found in untreated water (remember to tell your children at water parks NOT to drink the water that is being sprayed) farms, and the feces of infected people. Wash your hands after visits to the petting zoo. Make sure hamburgers are fully cooked through.
6)   Listeria—found in soil, water, poultry and cattle. It can also be found in processed meats, including hot dogs and sandwich meat. You can find it in unpasteurized dairy products, refrigerated smoked seafood, and sprouts. (Those sprouts are looking pretty dangerous.) Pregnant women are told to avoid unheated processed meats. Wash produce thoroughly before consumption. Wash hands after handling raw meat and poultry. Do not consume dairy products made with unpasteurized milk.
7)   Clostridium perfringens—a common cause of food poisoning in the United States. Can be found in poultry, beef, and gravies. Cooking kills the cells of this bacteria, but not always the spores. Food left out can grow new cells. The bacteria thrive between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate food promptly and don’t eat if it has been sitting out more than two hours. Do not let leftovers cool on the counter. Many outbreaks occur at catered events and cafeterias.
There are many more ways to get sick from poor food preparation. Handling food without washing the hands can cause shigella, staph aureus, and Hepatitus A. Eating food that has sat out too long can also cause Bacillus cereus. And some foods may cause botulism, including old canned goods (use by date on can, do not consume if can is bulging), home-canned food (if it has a low acid content), foods held warm for an extended amount of time.
So in a nutshell, to prevent food illness wash hands before and after food preparation. Wear disposable gloves if you are ill (and all restaurants should require their cook staff to wear gloves when handling food), wash utensils and plates that have touched raw food before using them on the cooked product (and re-contaminating the food), refrigerate leftovers immediately, do not consume food that has been left out, and for goodness sakes, do not eat sprouts!
How can you be sure the restaurants you frequent won’t have contamination? There’s no way to be sure. But if you feel you’ve become ill from a dining experience, you can report it here: http://www.foodsafety.gov/report/index.html. Food products from a grocery store can be reported here: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls/Problems_With_Food_Products/index.asp.
If you’re interested in knowing what restaurants near you have health code violations, you can google to find the information. If you live in Monroe County in New York State, you can get the information here: http://rocdocs.democratandchronicle.com/map/restaurant-inspections. Just click on the restaurant you want to check up on. To look it up in the New York City area:  http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/services/restaurant-inspection.shtml. 
Also take a look at: http://www.katom.com/learning-center/information_on.html  for more information on restaurant safety inspection as well.
Most of the time our food is safe. But it’s good to know how prevent food-borne illness, and how to keep your family healthy.

6 comments:

  1. Hello there. I need some help here. We actually need to "eat" a raw chicken on stage for a theater play. The actors will be actually ripping a (dead but raw) chicken into pieces, and they will "devour" it. This is a must in the play. They hopefully won't swallow any of it, but their lips and tongue will for sure contact the pieces of raw chicken. More, the chicken will stay unrefrigerated for a good while. Any advice on how to previously sanitize the chicken so no one of us has to get sick? Thank you very much for your help.

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  2. Oh my goodness! I don't think there is a way to sanitize the chicken. At least, none I know of. You know what I would do? I'd boil the chicken ahead of time in red food coloring. Keep the chicken chilled until showtime in a Styrofoam cooler packed with ice. It should look like a real, raw chicken to the audience. (I worked in theater for many years, and we did a lot of strange things, but never that!) I would not attempt to try this with a real raw chicken. Even without ingesting the chicken the actors could become very ill.

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  3. Thank you for your reply! Yes, boiling in red food coloring seems to be a good way. At this point I'm wandering... Would a somewhat lower temperature than 100ºC still kill all the nasty stuff while producing a "less cooked" look?. Perhaps 60º or 70º would be still safe and result in a more raw-looking chicken? Thank you again for your time.

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  4. Sorry for my late reply...here is what I have found according to www.aspenpitkin.com, which is a restaurant regulation site. They write, "the Salmonella or Campylobacter found on Chicken needs to be cooked to 165 degrees to be destroyed." So no, it wouldn't kill the bacteria. Mind you, not all chicken contains these bacterias, but I wouldn't chance it. I think that from a distance your audience won't know the difference, especially if the poultry has a pinkish cast. I shudder to picture it. :)

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  5. Thanks for sharing this informative blog.
    To make Food and health safety plain and simple, it's a matter of life and death! You can get sick from eating food that was not handled properly. It can even lead to death. So food safety is important for our health as well as all those that are eating the same food.

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  6. Thanks for stopping by, Health and Safety Training. You're right...it can be a matter of life or death, especially for children, the elderly, or those with weak immune systems.

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