March 26, 2012

Handle with care: Many people ignore guidelines

Industry rules can only go so far, food safety experts say, and can't protect consumers from themselves.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Here are some other tips for keeping your family's food safe.


Many contamination issues occur when the consumer is sloppy about handling, or purchases food stored under questionable circumstances. This can lead not only to direct contamination but to cross-contamination when tainted food comes into contact with untainted food.

Choose a package that is not torn and feels cold.

Even though meat is wrapped, wrap it again in a plastic bag before putting it into your cart so juices won't leak onto other foods.

Keep meats separate from the other items you put in your cart.

If you like those pre-cooked chickens that most grocery stores sell now, Camire recommends finding one that's been cooked within the last hour. Just because it's been sitting under a heat lamp for hours doesn't mean it was sitting at the proper temperature.

Those reusable shopping bags may be environmentally friendly, but they can harbor lots of nasty bacteria. Wash them regularly, and consider keeping separate bags for meat and produce.


Be careful about buying seafood from trucks on the side of the road. Bolton recommends at least checking to see if they have a mobile retail license first, so that you lessen your risk of ending up with product that has not been stored at the right temperature.


Once food makes it to the kitchen, safe handling and food preparation is key. If a contaminated food touches other surfaces -- the sink, a cutting board -- cross-contamination can occur.

Don't wash meat and poultry after you've taken it out of the package. Doing this will just spray bacteria all over the kitchen, perhaps into areas that aren't usually cleaned well. "Yes, you already have it in your sink," Bolton said, "but if you're spraying water on it, it has the potential to then spray that contaminated water all over your kitchen."

The USDA recommends keeping all raw meat, fish and poultry away from other foods that will not be cooked. Clean up any spills right away. Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they've been in contact with raw meat or poultry.

Use good cutting board hygiene. Some food experts recommend color-coding cutting boards (green for fruits and vegetables), and keeping a separate one for meats and poultry.

The most important thing to remember is to wash your cutting board well, especially if it's a wooden cutting board, which requires more maintenance.

"The issue with wooden ones is only people don't clean them properly," Bolton said. "Because they're more porous, you have to scrub, you have to use good detergent, and you have to use hot water. And then you have to make sure that they dry well."

That doesn't mean that you can keep plastic cutting boards forever. If you're scrubbing for a long time and there are still specks of dirt or other material on the board, throw it away and get a new one.

Never leave perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour if it's 90 degrees or above outside.

Use a food thermometer. Cutting a hamburger patty open to see if it looks done is no guarantee that you've cooked the meat long enough to make it safe.

"When looking at foods, there's no indicator to say this food has a pathogen in it," Bolton said. "That's the scary thing about pathogens. But the proper cooking temperature will eliminate a lot of that."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


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Tracking meat products

Do you think the federal government should require, rather than recommend, better tracking of meat products?



View Results