September is National Food Safety Month and there's never been a better time to think before you bite. Food-borne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion a year, a tab that works out to an average cost of $1,850 each time someone gets sick from food, a report by a former Food and Drug Administration economist says. What you can't put a price on, though, is the way it affects people personally. According to the CDC, there were over 80 million reported cases of food borne illness, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
For every case, it's estimated another 27 go unreported - resulting in billions of bouts ranging from bad belly to hospitalization and tragically, even death. Children, pregnant women, seniors and others with lowered immunity are even more at risk, but everyone can get sick. Our friend, Alexis Sarti, was paralyzed after eating tainted ahi tuna at a local restaurant, celebrating an evening with her boyfriend. It just shouldn't happen to a 25 year old, healthy track star.
There are so many things that we can do to take food safety into our own hands, whether we're at home or on the go. Our top 5 tips to protect your plate are here.
5 Ways to Protect Your Plate
1. Remember the CCSC's of Food Safety. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the four basic things to play it safe in the kitchen are: CLEAN (wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs); SEPARATE (keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood apart); COOK (use a food thermometer - you can't tell food is cooked safely by how it looks) and CHILL (keep leftovers refrigerated at 40 °F or below) especially when it comes to perishables like meat, dairy and cut fruit + veggies. With proper attention to food handling and adequate washing techniques, you can greatly reduce your risk of food borne illness and exposure to potentially harmful contaminants.
2. Pick your perishables wisely. Before your food reaches you, food has been touched by around 20 different sets of hands, trucked and traveled at least1,500 miles before they get to you. The further they have to go, the more potential points of contamination. Shop for what's in season and ask your retailer or green grocer about where their food comes from. When picking fruit and vegetables, avoid bruised, cut skin as this can breed bacteria and contamination. With cheese and milk, you'll want to make sure foods have been properly pasteurized, chilled and purchased by the suggested 'Enjoy by' date.
3. Bag the rinse and really wash. You wouldn't lick the dirt from under your fingernails, so why would you eat fruit and vegetables with potential life-threatening viruses and bacteria trapped under their surfaces? Contaminates from soils and dirt residue, chemical fertilizers and dirt that gets locked under non water-soluble waxes can lead to serious and life-threatening illnesses, such as Salmonella and E. coli. The last few major produce recalls have featured bagged lettuce and spinach, so make sure to re-wash pre-washed cut fruit and veggies. Take the extra two minutes to really wash - not just casually rinse -especially produce with lots of nooks and crannies. Studies show many food pathogens will not be easily removed with water alone.
4. Don't let your fowl go fowl. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you're talking about Salmonella, both can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Handling these foods with the utmost care and cooking them properly will help reduce your risk of contamination. Clean the outside of the egg before you crack it, as surface Salmonella can transfer to the inside, and your uncooked chicken to remove the 'fecal soup,' that liquid your bird is swimming in (that accounts for up to 15% of your chicken's weight, by the way.) Wash your hands regularly when handling both raw chicken and eggs and avoid contact with your mouth. Interior temperature of your cooked chicken should be 165F degrees, 160F for dishes containing eggs.
5. Select your seafood safely. Sushi is as ubiquitous as burgers nowadays, but taking extra care when it comes to raw food in general, especially seafood, is critical. Fish shouldn't smell fishy or taste aged. If you're at a restaurant, don't hesitate to ask where they get their 'fresh' catches and when they came in. Also, ask if it's been prepared anywhere near other raw foods. Opt for wild caught seafood vs. farm raised. A big surge of the available seafood is being raised in closed quarters that can spread disease and bacteria more rampantly than line caught counterparts. When grocery shopping, choose seafood that is properly refrigerated or iced and take special care to avoid cooked seafood that's been displayed in the same case as raw fish or handled by gloves that have touched raw fish (this is Dad's biggest pet peeve - he took his local store all the way up to the federal food chain on a similar mishap). "Bottom feeders" such as shrimp and other shellfish such as mussels and clams should be cleaned and scrubbed well before cooking.
Think before you bite and eat cleaner at every meal.