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SafeFood - Have you had The Talk?

Family time is a good time to chat with those you love about safe food handling. An understanding of why recommendations exist for end point cooking temperatures can go a long way in helping people practice these on a regular basis. For example, the question came up with relatives who had grown up before fresh shell eggs became a potentially hazardous food about why it was necessary to cook the egg until the yolk was set. This led into a conversation about relative risks and other factors that can lead to foodborne illness.

There are options available for those who like eggs over easy and soft poached eggs. Pasteurized shell eggs have been heated to high enough temperatures for a short period of time – long enough to reduce bacterial loads but not long enough to cook. Yes, they do cost more, but consider this an investment – certainly it is worth the price one would pay for a food borne illness. I know, I have experienced one before, as have the estimated 76 million other U.S. citizens each year.

If someone in your family likes rare hamburgers – there are also options. One is to purchase electronically pasteurized ground beef patties, although these are not widely available anymore due to fewer irradiation facilities. Yes it does cost more for this added value but it is money well spent, particularly for those in at risk groups.

Another option is to purchase your own whole muscle cut – say a round roast – and grind your own. Many of the upscale mixers have a grinding attachment or seek out one from grandma’s cupboard. Be sure to clean and sanitize it well before and after use.

Another option is to source your own meat products. While the meat industry takes many precautions, it is still a very large system with batches containing products multiple sources. The new COOL labeling will provide some assurances, but many people have discovered some benefits to purchasing meat directly from a producer. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that my family does raise cattle). While the scientific evidence does not show local meat is safer than that from a centralized system, knowing origin of food they eat is a comfort for many people, and likely a reason ‘food with a face’ is increasingly popular.

But, products still need to be kept cold, handled properly, and cross contamination avoided. That means washing your hands and cooking to properly. So many times foodborne illnesses can be avoided by proper handling, cooking, handwashing and cleaning. These are Consumer Control Points – and who doesn’t like to be in control? Check out bookmarks with these control points at www.extension.iastate.edu/store and click on Publication number EDC 111. There is a small fee for shipping and handling but other costs are covered through USDA Food Safety and Quality Project at Iowa State University.

Lets all work to lower that 76 million cases of foodborne illness each year – I’ve been there and done that and it is not an experience I wish to repeat. So have The Talk with those you love. More information and links on cooking temperature and safe handling at www.iowafoodsafety.org
Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CFSP January 2, 2008