• ShopSmart Decodes the New Rules of Food Safety

    Apr 12, 2010 18:00 ET -- ShopSmart Decodes the New Rules of Food Safety

    How to Avoid Getting Sick from Contaminated Food
    YONKERS, N.Y., April 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With recalls of potentially deadly foods all over the news, it seems as though no matter what you buy at the grocery store, you could be putting your health -- or even your life -- on the line. But according to a new report in the May 2010 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, there are ways consumers can be proactive about reducing their risks of food borne illness. The "New Rules of Food Safety" feature shares steps consumers can take when shopping for, preparing and cooking food.

    "Despite the spate of recent food recalls, consumers aren't completely helpless when it comes to safely feeding their families more safely," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "ShopSmart's guide to food safety will supply our readers with the know-how to navigate grocery shopping with safety in mind."

    ShopSmart's "New Rules of Food Safety" features important safety tips for every aisle of the grocery store, the dos and don'ts of putting away groceries, the optimal temperature for cooked foods, ways to keep kitchen tools safe and clean, proper prepping and cooking advice, the right way to handle leftovers and the food items to handle with extreme care. Below is a sampling of some of ShopSmart's advice.

    Supermarket Smarts

    It's not just what you buy but how you buy it. Here is the safety game plan to get shoppers started:

    1. Prep Before You Shop. Next time you head to the store, throw a cooler with ice packs into your car. Then if you have a bunch of errands to run or it's hot outside, you will be able to keep perishable foods from warming up in your car. If you forget a cooler, ask the butcher or fishmonger for some ice in a plastic bag. Also, put sanitizing wipes that contain alcohol in your purse.

    2. Clean Your Cart. As you enter the store, wipe the handles with your wipes. Germs might be lurking there. The wipes will help you prevent transferring those bugs from your hands to the food you're buying, which is especially important when it comes to the produce you'll be eating raw. Wiping your hands on the way out can also help you banish germs you've picked up while shopping.

    3. Shop in the Middle of the Store First. This is generally where you'll find drinks and packaged goods, which can sit in your cart for a while. Then you can hit the produce and bulk-food aisles.

    4. Save Stuff that Needs to Be Kept Cold for the End. These items include meat, fish, eggs, milk and deli meats. Pick up frozen foods last and keep them together. Also, separate meat, poultry and other items in your cart to avoid cross-contamination. Give cleaning supplies their own area, in case they spring a leak. Make sure items you've kept apart are bagged separately, too.

    Editors Note: When packing up the car with purchases, store frozen foods, meats and other refrigerator perishables closely together and cover them with a blanket (or store them in a cooler, if available). This will help keep everything cold for longer. --CM

    Kitchen Critical -- Get the right tools to avoid the most dangerous food-prep mistakes:

    1. Thermometers. Put an appliance thermometer in your fridge and freezer to make sure they're running at the right temp (37 to 38 F and 0 F, respectively) and get a meat thermometer to ensure that food is cooked enough to kill disease-causing salmonella and E. coli and other potentially lethal bugs. ShopSmart tested 11 meat thermometers; the top instant-read model was the Taylor Weekend Warrior 806, $16. If you want one that will beep when, say, a roast reaches the right temp, the Polder THM-360, $30, is the most accurate leave-in model tested. Editors Note: We use a Thermapen by ThermoWorks, which is calibrated for best accuracy. --CM

    2. Cutting Boards. Use different ones for produce, meat and poultry, and seafood to prevent cross-contamination. Having different color cutting boards can help make this easier to remember (ie. use red for meats, yellow for poultry and green for vegetables and fruits). Solid-wood cutting boards are as safe to use as NSF-rated plastic or acrylic boards. Discard any worn, cracked or grooved boards; germs may hide out in the crannies, which are more difficult to clean and sterilize.

    3. Ice packs. They can be tossed in a cooler or reusable bags to keep food cool during transport. Foods that need to be kept cold while you serve them should be served on ice. Those include foods that contain eggs, such as mayonnaise.

    4. Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar. Keep cutting boards, knives and countertops sanitized by spraying them with vinegar, then with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide after you've washed them with hot, soapy water. Keep the liquids in separate spray bottles, and use them one at a time. Wipe your kitchen tools with a clean towel after each spritz.

    Editors Note: We use high proof rum to clean wood cutting boards (it gives it a wonderful scent and orange glow). Vodka is used (a cheap brand is OK) for cleaning other food surfaces, and rubbing alcohol for cleaning non-food surfaces such as glass and metal (be careful when using alcohol on painted surfaces). We keep a sprayer bottle filled with 90% rubbing alcohol always available for sterilizing surfaces

    Metal and wood surfaces can also be rubbed with mineral oil (we rub carbon steel knives with mineral before storing) to prevent rust and preserve the wood. If wood butcher blocks have grooves with hard-to-remove buildup, use a dough scraper and coarse salt to scrub and scrape until clean. Then a wipe down with vinegar or scrub with a half a lemon dipped in salt will brighten the board. Use baking soda on pots and pans to rub off stubborn bits; make a paste with a few drops of water and use the baking soda as a scrubbing powder. Have expired baking powder on the shelf? Use a tablespoon each day to freshen the drain instead of tossing it out or try using it as a scrubbing powder for dishes, too. --CM

    Product Dating

    What Food Product Dates Really Mean -- "Sell" or "pull" date used by grocery stores are provided to help decide how long food products should be stored on the shelf. Fresh (such as meat and dairy) products stored properly should still be safe three to seven days after the sell-by date, but use your best judgement. Any foods which are slimy or have an off odor should be discarded where no animals or humans may reach them. Canned goods may be shelf safe for up to 6 months after expiration; check for signs of spoilage upon opening, such as a spurt from a can that is under pressure or slimy or bubbling contents.

    "Best if used by" -- date is a manufacturer's date. Use the product by that date for top quality and flavor.

    Expiration date -- should be checked while you're in the store so that you don't buy a product that has expired or is close to expiring. At home, discard items found on your shelves which have expired dates, to avoid the risk of food poisoning, or worse.

    Source: Consumer Reports

    Web Site: http://www.shopsmartmag.org/

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