Food-borne illnesses are a growing problem in the United States, with 1 in 6 Americans becoming sick from them every year. Stories of E. coli in spinach, salmonella in peanut butter and contaminated cantaloupe are enough to make anyone shudder.
Luckily, by using simple techniques in preparing food, most of the potential risks from pesticides and bacteria can be minimized. Avoiding the produce aisle isn’t the answer, properly cleaning fresh food is.
Mareya Ibrahim, chef and food safety expert, has seven simple tips on how to protect your plate from contamination. “I created the Savvy 7 as a positive spin on the Dirty Dozen, because I feel that food safety has so much more to it than just pesticide exposure,” she says.
The Savvy Seven are:
1) Shop with your eyes wide open. This means reading labels, becoming knowledgeable about product ingredients and knowing how meats and dairy products should be stored to avoid them going bad. Another thing to look out for: “Avoid any cans or packages that are dented, opened or leaking. Also, make sure to check expiration dates and avoid buying perishables too close to expiration,” says Ibrahim.
2) Pick your produce wisely. The most important rule is to “Never, ever, ever ‘sample’ unwashed’ produce at the store or farmers market. Often items like berries are picked and packed right in the field and are not even rinsed. They could be seething with bacteria and potential contaminants,” says Ibrahim. Produce travels an average of 1,500 miles and passes through “over 20 sets of hands from field to fork,” says Ibrahim, so try to buy produce grown closer to home, as that decreases the risk for contamination.
3) Remember the CSCC’s of food safety from the USDA:
- Clean food as well as everything coming into contact with food before and after use, from hands to knives to cutting boards
- Separate uncooked meat from everything else to avoid cross-contamination, and don’t replace cooked meat onto the platter that held it raw
- Cook meat, eggs and poultry thoroughly, using a meat thermometer to check temperature
- Chill leftovers promptly, as bacteria grows quickly at room temperature
4) Give your fruit and veggies a real wash. Along with pesticides, many fruits and vegetables are also coated in wax to help it hold up to long journeys. Pesticides, wax and dirt should be thoroughly scrubbed or soaked off produce, which includes organic produce. Opinions differ on the best way to clean fruits and veggies, but at least do something to clean off harmful pesticides. As the founder of Eat Cleaner, a fruit and vegetable wash, Ibrahim is a big believer in thoroughly cleaning produce. “You have to think, what else do we ‘clean’ with water alone?” she says. Her Eat Cleaner product may be a good choice because it also extends produce shelf life and is sold as handy on-the-go wipes. Ibrahim advises, “Just remember these 4 simple steps: Spray, soak, rinse, dry.”
5) Don’t let your fowl go foul. There’s something called ‘fecal soup‘ that is exactly what it sounds like, and might be enough of a reason for some to switch to vegetarianism. Clean birds thoroughly to remove this, rewash hands after touching uncooked meat and, Ibrahim says, “Keep uncooked poultry, meat, and seafood wrapped in plastic bags to prevent leakage of juices and liquids.”
6) Select your seafood safely. “Avoid purchasing pre-cooked seafood if they are in a case next to uncooked seafood. The potential for cross contamination is too high. If you must, ask your handler to put on a fresh pair of gloves,” says Ibrahim. Trust your nose, and reject any seafood that smells suspicious. Also, choose wild caught seafood over farm raised.
7) Chill out. Don’t let food horror stories make you shun the supermarket. Knowing correct selection and handling tips goes a long way in preventing food borne illnesses, so you can be confident that you’re protecting your family’s plate.