Tag Archives: vegetables

E. coli: More Than We’d Like To Talk About

cartoon-e-coli

How does E .coli get into my kitchen?  Whether it is your home or your work it happens pretty much the same way.  E. coli is a germ that lives in the intestines of cows that help it digest its food. Unfortunately, E. coli is harmful to humans. To be clear the muscles we consume are not contaminated while the cow is alive. During the slaughtering process the germ from the cows intestines can be spread to the surface of the meat. It is inevitable, meat will occasionally have E.coli but the solution is simple. When meat is cooked correctly the germ can be killed. Also, prevent the spread of the germ in your kitchen by separating meats from ready to eat foods and food contact surfaces.

I think that most of you already knew this simple fact. Raw meat has germs so we cook it. But did you know this? You are just as likely to get sick from  contaminated fruits and vegetables. The problem is within the food system. The way we raise the cattle contaminates the water, soil and air used to grow the produce. Until 2011 there has been very little regulation to test soil, water, equipment or farm workers. Until this new law that has been passed, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act(FSMA), we have been using regulation(FDC 1938) that was designed to feed far fewer Americans than we have today.  This FSMA is still not fully funded or complete. The best thing you can do to keep your produce safe is to wash it correctly.  It is also important to get your produce from a reputable source.

Now that you know that it is on our meat and produce there is one more thing to be aware of.  When a human is infected they may carry the disease for up to a year after the symptoms have passed. This person may have never sought medical attention for a variety of reasons and never knew they had E.coli. If this person is not being hygienic they can spread the germs through their feces(see my article on hand washing). This is especially dangerous as a food worker who is handling the food of many people. So if an employee is symptomatic get them out of the facility and always practice good personal hygiene.

E. coli isn’t going anywhere, it’s a natural part of things. But, with a little information and a little effort we can cut down on the incidences of illness. Remember, there is a lot on the line besides a little diarrhea. This could mean your business and unfortunately for some it could cost their lives.

What Are Expiration Dates On Packaging

Expiration dates come in many forms. There is the “best by”, “sell by” or “use by” dates and my favorite, the ambiguous random numbers stamped on the can.  In reality these dates are determined by the manufacturer and are part of a voluntary process.  These dates indicate to the store when the  foods are at their peak freshness and should be removed from shelves.  Basically, it’s another part of marketing, if you buy a food and it’s stale or not fresh you won’t buy it again.

When you look through the Food Safety Inspection Services (a branch of the USDA) web page you see the term “peak freshness or quality” appear over and over again when they describe what these dates mean. So when do the foods really expire?  Well for food service operations its different than for the home cook.  In the food service environment its simple, when the date on the label has passed it is expired, unless the food was prepared in house, then you have 7 days.  If the health inspector finds foods with expired dates they will mark it as a violation.

However, in the home it is different.  We can assess the foods by feeling their texture, smelling them or looking for discoloration. If any of these things seem off then throw them away, which means they can sometimes be used after the date on the label. The FSIS has also provided a chart outlining some guide lines for the safety of certain foods which you will see below.

Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated” 9 months 3 to 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 to 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 to 5 years/pantry 3 to 4 days
Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks

GMO’s Are Good!

Cavemen cooking food

Imagine for a minute, 2 prehistoric people sitting around a fire 500,000 years ago.  One of them puts their meat on the fire to cook it and explains to the other that when this is done the people who eat the food don’t get sick as often and the meat lasts longer so less people starve to death. This prehistoric person then goes on to say that they spend far less time chewing and eating so they get to spend more time with friends and family talking, exploring new ideas and solving other problems they have.

On the other side of the fire the man says, “Well, I tried this out on that wolf that comes around who is already sick and it didn’t get any better.  I think because of that we shouldn’t cook our meat because we don’t know what might happen to us in the future.”

We’ll it turns out that we do know what happened in this story.   According to Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, the prehistoric people who cooked their food evolved into homo habilis, an early predecessor of humans that became who we are today. Without cooking we might still be trying to figure out how to not be eaten by bears and lions as our everyday activities.

Compare this scenario to our newest food technology GMO’s. A GMO or genetically modified organism is a food that has DNA that was altered with the DNA of another plant.  This can happen through selective breeding, introducing species from different parts of the world to each other or introducing desirable genetic traits into a host by insertion, which it then absorbs naturally. This technology is our future and it is not going away. If we want to get past all of the hurdles our current food system is facing like water shortages, weed and  pest infestations or chemical issues then GMO is the best way.

Some people say that it is not natural so it can’t be good. That is why I gave the example of our early ancestors.  Imagine if cooking food, a seemingly unnatural process, was banned.  Then humans may have never evolved into the amazing creatures we are today.  We also may have never discovered the beautiful things that make us human such as religion, art, civilizations and science because we had to spend so much time just trying how to figure out how to find enough safe food.

The science that has been presented by opponents of GMO’s, such as the now infamous Seralini study, has been refuted by scientists on both sides of the GMO argument for being sloppy and poorly documented. I’m not going to site a bunch of sources but they’re out there, look them up.  As a matter of fact there have been more thorough studies done in Japan recently showing no negative side effects from GM soy beans on rats that use the same technology as our GM corn.

Well then what about the cancer it causes?  According to Kevin Folta, professor of horticulture science at University of Florida, “the basic science says there’s no plausible way these well-understood genes could cause or promote cancer”.

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t be using science to make a more nutritious, safer food supply for the world when you are not hungry.  But think about how many people will be affected by starvation this year due to malnutrition.  Well according to the WHO, “malnutrition is a significant factor in approximately one third of the nearly 8 million deaths in children who are under 5 years of age world wide”. How many of those children could be spared with a better food supply? How many of those mothers would say no to a plate of nutritious GM golden rice?

Genetic engineering is going to be a big part of our future just like cooking has been for 500,000 years.  The transition to acceptance is happening now and imagine all of the unknown possibilities the future  holds for us if we can figure out the problem of a safe food supply for all humankind.  We can’t even imagine what is to come, just like our ancestors, but it is time to close the door of starvation, disease and malnutrition and open the door towards a more advanced world.

Do Bananas Need To Be Washed?

bananas

One of the things I run across in my classes is confusion about what types of produce need to be washed.  People ask questions about melons, garlic and lemons or sometimes about bananas. I think what is throwing people off is that these products have a peel  that we don’t eat so it seems that if we remove the peel then we are removing the contamination. Continue reading Do Bananas Need To Be Washed?