Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summertime Food Safety Tips

Summer-time is one of the best times of year to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that aren't available year-round. Recent salmonella outbreaks like those in last year's spinach crops or this year's tomato crops are an important reminder about handling food properly.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that there is no way for consumers to detect salmonella since it can't be smelled, tasted, or seen. Here's what they recommend to reduce the risk of exposure during this latest outbreak:

Check the Type ~ Since April 16, more than 220 people from twenty-three states have contracted
salmonella poisoning from tainted tomatoes. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising people to eat only cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, and tomatoes grown at home since these tomatoes are not associated with the outbreak.

If you have raw red plum, Roma, or round red tomatoes, which are the tomatoes associated with the outbreak according to preliminary data compiled by the FDA, the best thing to do is either throw them away or return them to the store where you purchased them.

Wash, Wash, Wash ~ One of the best ways to protect yourself is to wash all produce, including organic produce, with cold running water. You should scrub your produce gently with a vegetable brush, or you can use your hands if you don't have a brush. Make sure you remove outer layers of cabbage and lettuce. And make sure you wash fruit, too, even if you don't eat the peel.

In addition, wash your hands with soap and water before handling food and also wash cutting boards, counters, and utensils to avoid cross-contamination. When you are preparing fresh vegetables, make sure you avoid any kind of contact with raw meat. And don't forget to refrigerate sliced up fruits and vegetables.

Ask Your Waiter ~ If you eat out, ask your waiter what the restaurant has done in response to the outbreak. Several restaurants...including chains McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell, among others...have stopped serving tomatoes, but it's always wise to double check. Keep in mind that ketchup and cooked sauces are not affected since cooking tomatoes at 145 degrees kills salmonella. Don't hesitate to ask your waiter to leave tomatoes off a sandwich or salad if the restaurant hasn't removed tomatoes from its menu. Note that if you remove the tomatoes once your order comes, the food could still be contaminated.

Make the Call ~
Salmonella poisoning typically resembles the flu, and symptoms usually appear 12 to 72 hours after infection and include abdominal cramps, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. If you suspect that you've contracted a case of salmonella poisoning, call your local health department. Reported cases help the CDC and FDA track the source of salmonella.

For the latest information on the tomato salmonella outbreak, visit:
Link to FDA Information CDC: Link to CDC Information

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