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Watch What You Eat: Guide to Food Safety

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How to Protect Yourself

Yes, you can help change the food-safety system. These simple steps can make a big difference.

Stay informed.
Sign up for food-safety updates. During major outbreaks, the CDC, FDA, and USDA announce alerts and recalls via e-mail, text messages, podcasts, RSS feeds, and widgets. For a menu of options, go to cdc.gov and click on Tools and Resources.

Be kitchen-smart.
A few precautions can save you a whole lot of sickness.

  1. Cook meat thoroughly -- and use a food thermometer to make sure it's hot enough to kill bacteria.
  2. Wash anything that's been in contact with raw meat, poultry, or eggs, including your hands, before touching other foods.
  3. Use separate plates and cutting boards for raw and cooked food, and separate boards for each type of food (only half of all Americans do this, according to an International Food Information Council Foundation survey).
  4. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
  5. Remove and throw away the outer layers of lettuce and cabbage heads; rub all fresh fruits and vegetables under cool running water to loosen dirt and germs. Rinse for about 10 seconds, then blot with a paper towel.

Contact your congressperson.
Read up on the different food-safety bills and e-mail or write your representatives and tell them which one you support. The most comprehensive is the House version of the Food Safety Modernization Act; others include the Senate's Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act and the House's TRACE Act of 2009. For information on all the bills, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/.

Insider Safety Secrets

Here's how the experts outsmart food-borne bugs at home.

"I use a meat thermometer and annoy my family by making them use one too," says Chris Waldrop of Consumer Federation of America. "It's the only way to be sure your meat and poultry are cooked to the proper temperature."

"I buy my salad greens whole," says Michael Doyle, PhD, of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety. "If there are germs in bagged salad, it's almost impossible to rinse them all out." Instead, he buys heads of lettuce, removes the outer leaves and rinses the inner ones thoroughly

"I don't eat alfalfa sprouts," says Ted Labuza, PhD, of the University of Minnesota's Department of Food Science and Nutrition. The moist environment they're grown in makes sprouts especially prone to bacterial growth. (Sure enough, a few days after he told us this, the FDA announced that sprouts had been linked to salmonella in several states.)

"I check labels for the country of origin," says Waldrop. As of last March, food products are required to carry stickers or labels that tell where they came from. "If I hear there's an outbreak from, say, Mexican green onions, I can buy products from another country instead," Waldrop explains.

"I eat probiotic yogurt," says Labuza. Some research suggests that probiotics, or good bacteria, may help protect the stomach against nasty bugs.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2009.

 

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