Ignoring food handling instructions about storage and cooking temperatures can land you in the hospital — or worse.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to pay attention to food labels, pointing to a few recent instances where people who did not pay attention to labels became ill with botulism.
“Heat & Serve/Keep Refrigerated.” Those instructions on a plastic container of soup from a supermarket salad bar were ignored. The purchaser let the soup sit unrefrigerated for “a day or two” before heating it. After tasting the soup and finding it “sour,” that consumer disposed of it. It was too late, though, and they ended up in the hospital diagnosed with botulism.
A similar incident happened when a consumer purchased soup in a pack of two plastic containers. The soup was sold cold and the instructions were to “keep refrigerated.” The first container of soup was eaten with no ill effects, but the second container was left unrefrigerated for a week. The consumer heated the soup and threw it away after tasting, but was also hospitalized with botulism.
- If the label says, “Keep Refrigerated,” keep the product refrigerated. Do not ignore this warning!
Botulism can result in respiratory failure, permanent neurological damage, or even death. But botulism isn’t the only serious thing that can go wrong.
Safe Handling Instructions: “Cook thoroughly” means that you need to cook to a safe minimum cooking temperature. Don’t trust the color of meat to tell you when its cooked — use a food thermometer to be sure. Undercooked meat can cause food poisoning from bacteria like E. coli. The worst type of E. coli can lead to kidney failure and even death. Children age four and under are particularly susceptible.
- Always cook meat thoroughly.
Microwave Labels: Always read and follow the cooking instructions on frozen microwave dinners to kill any dangerous bacteria that may be in the food.
Many labels list cooking times for two wattage levels of microwave ovens. Or they may explain that the cooking time on the package is for 1100-watt ovens, so you have to adjust the time for lower wattage ovens. You can use a food thermometer to be certain.
Don’t skip the standing time: the label may recommend letting the food stand for a minute or two after cooking. This “standing time” is important to complete the cooking process throughout the food.
- Microwave foods have important instructions, too.
Keep your family safe — read and follow handling instructions on food labels.