Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September is Food Safety Education Month

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stanford University, speak about food-borne illnesses. Since September is National Food Safety Education month, I thought I’d share some of what I learned about what we can do to protect ourselves.

Although the facts are a little terrifying, it was reassuring to hear that the best way to avoid food-borne illnesses is to carefully prepare food that was raised and handled safely. What immediately popped into my mind while Dr. Maldonado was speaking is that the best way to know that your food has been raised and handled safely (other than by raising it yourself) is to know your farmer!

The Center for Disease Control reports the following as the annual burden of foodborne illnesses:
48 million illnesses
128,000 hospitalizations
3,000 deaths
$6.5-35 billion in medical and other costs

What I found even scarier than the 48 million illnesses is the reminder that those were just the reported illnesses. Think of the number of times you just haven’t felt well, and you thought it might have been something you ate, but you didn’t feel badly enough to go see a doctor or call the CDC.

The list of common food-borne pathogens is immense. The ones we hear most about are e.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. And although we know that raw chicken, eggs, and pork are often culprits, in the recent past outbreaks have been traced to less obvious foods like raw sprouts and pistachios.

The greatest challenges to food safety today are in the food production and supply chain, as a result of antibiotic resistance, and due to the introduction of new “contained” foods such as cookie dough and bagged spinach. All food used to be locally produced. Today much of it comes from all over to a central processing plant and then gets sent far and wide. And this creates a whole host of problems. Hamburger meat has caused a number of multi-state outbreaks because the meat from many animals gets mixed and ground together, so one infected animal can make hundreds of people sick in different states at different times.

I cook almost every meal that my family eats, and I know how important it is for me to understand my responsibility. There is a great deal of excellent information on food safety in the home kitchen on the FDA’s website, www.foodsafety .com. I found the following two links particularly interesting:

Food Safety Myths:

Food safety at the farmer’s market:

Raw milk can be a touchy subject, and Dr. Maldonado explained that pasteurization does not destroy the beneficial nutrients in milk, so there is no good reason to drink it or to eat products made with it. In fact, before pasteurization, 25% of all diseases were related to raw milk. Today between 1 and 3% of the U.S. population drinks raw milk, and yet raw milk accounts for the majority of milk-borne illnesses in this country. Raw milk can contain bacteria such as Listeria and e.coli, parasites such as Giardia, and viruses like the norovirus. Because young children are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses, as parents we have a serious responsibility to protect them.

If you know where and how your food is being raised, how it’s picked, processed, and transported, you can avoid many food-related dangers. But it’s still important to learn the basic rules of food safety (I grabbed these quick tips from the FDA website):

-       Clean: Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Soap and water is best.
-       Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate
-       Cook: Cook to the right temperature
-       Chill: Refrigerate food promptly, and keep it below 40 degrees

In addition, if you’re sick, don’t prepare food for others. I like this rule because it means that even Moms should get sick days :-)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Panko-Crusted Chicken

I wrote this piece for seattletimes.com about one of my family's favorite meals, panko-crusted chicken.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Benefits of Organic

This piece from grist says it so well, I'm just helping to spread the word.