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Bad Bugs: Facts About Food Safety (Part 3)

Amy Campbell

November 19, 2012

Over the past two weeks, I’ve highlighted some of the big players (bacteria and viruses) that lurk in our food. I’m thinking that you get the message and you probably don’t want to hear more! But it’s a topic of importance for everyone, especially people with diabetes. So here are a few key facts and reminders to keep in mind:

• The food in the US is among the safest in the world, but it’s still susceptible to contamination.

• Every year, approximately 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illness, according to the CDC.

• Having diabetes puts you at greater risk for contracting a foodborne illness and can make it more difficult to fight off. This is, in part, due to the fact that your immune system may not be able to fend off harmful bacteria or viruses; if you have gastroparesis (slow stomach emptying), foods that are contaminated hang around in your GI tract longer; and if your kidneys aren’t in tip-top shape, they may not be able to filter out harmful bugs and toxins as well as they should.

So while the topic may not be exciting to you, it’s probably worth paying closer attention to how you store and prepare your food, how it’s cooked, and of course, what you eat.

Eat With Caution
I touched upon this previously, but it bears repeating: Some foods pose a risk because they’re “raw” or unpasteurized or because they aren’t cooked to a high enough temperature. These foods include the following:

• Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, and seafood
• Raw milk
• Uncooked or undercooked eggs (eating raw cookie dough isn’t safe!)
• Raw sprouts, like alfalfa sprouts
• Unwashed vegetables
• Soft cheeses (Feta, Brie, queso fresco, and others)
• Unheated or undercooked hot dogs and deli meats
• Pâté

Keeping Clean
Before you start preparing or cooking food, make sure your hands are thoroughly washed and that kitchen surfaces are clean. Wash utensil, dishes, countertops, and cutting boards with hot water and soap after contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. Keep cooked food separate from raw food, especially raw meat, poultry, and seafood. When using canned foods, wipe off the lids before you open them. Wash down surfaces with clean towels or paper towels when you’re done.

Cook Safely
No one wants to eat undercooked chicken. But sometimes it’s hard to tell when foods are cooked thoroughly. Take the guesswork out of it and use a food thermometer. Here are the internal temperatures to aim for:

• Steak and roasts: 145°F
• Ground beef: 160°F
• Pork: 160°F
• Whole chicken and breasts: 165°F
• Fish: 145°F
• Egg dishes: 160°F

Cook eggs until both the whites and the yolk are firm (not runny!). Also, if you’re reheating leftovers, heat until the inside temperature reaches 165°F.

Got Leftovers?
If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, refrigerate or freeze your food within two hours of cooking (or one hour if it’s very hot outside). Divide large amounts of food into smaller containers. Also, don’t thaw frozen food on your counter at room temperature. Instead, thaw in the fridge, in the microwave, or in cold water. Store cold food below 40°F. Make sure your fridge temperature is set at 40°F or below and your freezer temperature at 0°F or below.

Leftovers don’t keep forever, so use this as a guide for how long to keep your food in the fridge:

• Cooked meat and fish dishes: 3–4 days
• Cooked fresh vegetables: 3–4 days
• Soups and stews: 3–4 days
• Deli meats: 3–5 days
• Stuffing: 1–2 days

For more information on food safety, check out this excellent USDA guide issued by UC Davis.

May your Thanksgiving holiday be enjoyable and safe!



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