Thursday, March 08, 2007
How a medical producer avoids E. coli
As a medical producer, I have to dig beyond the headlines of the contaminated food articles that are the top stories in many newscasts and newspapers.
But as a consumer I face the same issues you do when you're standing in the supermarket trying to make healthy and safe food choices. Although available statistics do not show an overall increase in outbreaks, there have been more in produce than meat in recent years.
Since I try to eat a lot of salads, last year's E. coli outbreaks have made me wary of the lettuce and spinach that's available - especially since most of what I can buy in local supermarkets comes from the part of California where the recent E. coli outbreaks have been found.
The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other food experts have lots of advice about what you can do to prevent food-borne illnesses.
Clean, separate, cook, chill... that's the mantra and it makes sense.
Clean: Washing your hands and surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap prevents cross-contamination.
Separate: Don't cut your veggies on the same cutting board as your chicken - if there are bacteria on the bird, they could be transferred to the produce, and unless you're boiling your salad, the bacteria won't be killed.
Cook: Thoroughly cooking your meat, poultry and eggs can save a lot of stomach pain. Using a food thermometer is the best guide. For someone who likes steak tartar, it's a hard pill to swallow. But it takes less than 100 E. coli bacteria to make you sick, so food needs to be cooked to temperatures high enough to kill harmful bacteria.
Chill: Refrigerate food quickly... because in a warm environment, the number of E. coli bacteria doubles every 20 to 30 minutes.
Another good tip one expert passed on: When it comes to making a "safe" salad, take a full head of lettuce and remove the outer leaves. They're a natural, protective barrier and where bacteria are most likely found. Once you remove the outer leaves, wash your hands so you don't transfer bacteria from the outer leaves to the untainted inner ones.
Have you changed your eating and shopping habits as a result of the recent bacteria outbreaks?
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