Posted by on April 20, 2012 - 9:10am

Have you noticed Salmonella and other food borne illnesses are on the rise---everywhere.    While we rely on government agencies to keep our restaurants inspected and food handling industries regulated, at the home level, it's up to us!.  The kitchen is the germiest room in the house-- teeming with billions of microorganisms on countertops, refrigerators and cutting boards. And the worse culprit:   the kitchen sponge!

If you are a sponge user, you are likely  using it to wipe out the refrigerator, spills on the counter top, cleaning out your sink.  So unless you change your sponge daily, you are basically moving germs from one place to another.  Microwaving them or putting then in the dishwasher cycle, according to experts, does not guarantee germ removal unless you have sterilization cycles.   Better options are to use paper towels or a clean cloth that can be thrown into the clothes washer after each use.  If you can't break the sponge habit, soak them in a solution of bleach (one cup bleach per gallon of water) or vinegar and let air dry.

I confess that I use a sponge in the kitchen but limit use to  soapy dishes--and I buy lots of sponges at discount stores in bulk so they can be discarded weekly.  Paper towels are my choice for countertops and spills---though my recycling friends frown on this excessive use of paper!  Any other thoughts?



Posted by on January 5, 2012 - 6:33am

Some people don’t take food poisoning very seriously. Maybe that’s because the symptoms usually are not long-lasting in most healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe, even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune systems.

Threats to food safety constantly evolve. New disease-causing organisms emerge and known pathogens become more virulent. In addition, consumers increasingly want food that is less processed.  Even though government food safety regulators received important new tools to help protect us in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, it’s clear that individuals need to take every practical step they can to prevent foodborne illness.

Since it’s traditional at the start of a new year to think about what needs to be changed in one’s life to make it happier and healthier, here are a few suggestions for resolutions to help eliminate foodborne illness from your and your families’ lives.

Clean: Resolve to wash your hands before, during and after handling food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. To do it effectively, wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well for at least 20 seconds. Air dry or use a clean paper towel.

Separate: If you only have one cutting board, resolve to get another to help avoid cross-contamination. Use one for foods that will be cooked, such as meat, poultry, and seafood, and the other for foods like fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw. That way the raw foods won’t be contaminated by the juices from the ones to be cooked.  If you do get a new cutting board, get one that’s dishwasher-safe.  The very hot water and strong detergent typically used in dishwashers can eliminate a lot of bacteria.

Cook: Resolve to get a food thermometer, if you don’t have one.  Only a food thermometer can make sure meat, poultry, fish, and casseroles are cooked to a safe internal temperature—hot enough to kill any pathogens that may be present.

Chill: Similarly, resolve to get an appliance thermometer to  be sure your refrigerator is at or below 40ºF. Between 40ºF and 140ºF is the Danger Zone when bacteria multiply rapidly. The more bacteria, the more likely someone will get sick.  Most refrigerators have just a colder/warmer adjustment, so the only way to know the temperature is to put a thermometer inside.



For more information, check out these resources:

Long-Term Effects of Food Poisoning

Don’t Cross-Contaminate

Making Food Safer to Eat


Posted by on November 20, 2011 - 8:43am

Are you curious about deep frying a turkey? I know you are! You’ve heard all the talk about how tasty they are; tender and juicy yet crispy on the outside. You’ve seen the turkey fryers and giant jugs of peanut oil. But you’re a little nervous. That’s a lot of hot oil! USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service has these tips to help you safely prepare a deep fat fried turkey.

Planning: Tips for Purchasing a Turkey
Before you purchase your turkey, check the instructions for your turkey fryer. Most fryers will accommodate a 12-16 lb. turkey. A larger turkey will not fit in the fryer and will take too long to cook. Don’t stuff a turkey that you’re going to fry!

Before you unwrap the turkey, take a minute to determine the amount of oil needed. Place the turkey in the fryer and add enough water to cover it.  Do not fill the pot more than ¾ full; the oil level should be three inches to five inches from the top of the fryer. The turkey should be covered by about one to two inches. Remove the turkey and measure the amount of water – that’s how much oil you’ll need. Drain or pour out the water and dry the pot thoroughly.

Preparation: Check Your Food Safety Steps
As you prepare the bird, separate the raw turkey from fresh foods on your menu, and use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils to avoid cross contamination.  If your turkey is frozen, make sure to thaw it before frying. You can thaw it in the refrigerator. It takes about 24 hours for every four to five pounds. Keep it refrigerated until about 30 minutes before cooking.

If you choose to marinade or to inject a flavor into the turkey, allow it to stand in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before cooking. And always keep hands, utensils, and surfaces clean.

Cooking: Caution! Hot Oil!
Deep fat frying a turkey must be done OUTSIDE! Select a safe, flat outdoor location that is well-lit, well-ventilated and away from trees, shrubbery and buildings.  Heat the cooking oil to 350°F. Before lowering the turkey into the oil, turn the burner off. Do not just dunk the turkey in the oil. To avoid the oil bubbling over, gradually lower the turkey into the hot oil, pull it back out, and repeat until it is fully immersed.  Turn the burner back on and bring the oil back to 350°F.

Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer constantly during cooking. Never leave the hot oil unattended! Allow about three to five minutes per pound cooking time.  When the time is up, turn the burner off, and slowly lift the turkey out of the oil. Hold it over the fryer so the oil can drain. Check the temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer. The turkey is safely cooked when the food thermometer reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165°F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Enjoy Your Meal

Cover the bird with foil and let it rest about 20 minutes before carving. After serving, refrigerate the leftovers within two hours in shallow containers. Refrigerate and use turkey leftovers for three to four days or freeze for three to four months.

Don’t forget about the oil! Once the turkey is out, remove the pot from the burner and move to a flat, safe place and allow the oil to cool, covered, overnight. Once the oil has cooled you can strain out the solids and use it again. Store in a cool, dry place for up to six months.

If you have more questions call the Meat & Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-674-6854. The Hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving.  Bon Appetite!

Source: USDA




Day. You can also ask a question in English or Spanish at, available 24 hours a day

Posted by on April 15, 2011 - 9:21am

We aren't sure how Bisphenol A (BPA) (found in plastic food containers) affects human beings — especially developing fetuses and young children — and if concerning test results in animal subjects translate to people. Should BPA be banned from baby bottles, as it has been in other countries like Canada?   Unfortunately, our ability to detect chemicals in our bodies is running ahead of our ability to understand exactly how them may affect us.

An estimated 93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However,  once we stop being exposed to the chemical, BPA levels can drop dramatically. We can rid ourselves of BPA fairly quickly, unlike other more long-lasting chemicals like lead.

That's the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. A team of researchers from the Silent Spring Institute, the Breast Cancer Fund and Vassar College took five families from the San Francisco Bay area and had them stop using canned foods and plastic food packaging for several days. The scientists found that BPA levels among the family members dropped by an average of over 60% — but once they went back to their normal diet, the BPA levels went back up as well. That's pretty strong evidence that restricting use of certain plastics and packaging can significantly reduce exposure to the chemical, and whatever harm it may do.

Here's how the study worked: the five families of four provided urine samples for two days while they ate their normal diets. That gave researchers a background level for BPA and some phthalates — plasticizing chemicals that have also been tagged as endocrine disruptors (

naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body). Next, the researchers gave each family three days' worth of freshly prepared organic meals and snacks, stored in glass and stainless steel containers. (One popular source of BPA is in the liner inside canned food.) The families gave  samples on the second and third days that were tested for BPA and phthalates. Lastly, the families returned to their normal diets for three days, and were tested twice again.

In addition to BPA, the researchers also tested for the phthalate DEHP — which is also found in food packaging — as well as DEP and several other chemicals that are not used often in packaging. That mix of chemicals was chosen to give the research team a better idea of the role that plastics and packaging might play in exposure to BPA. The fact that BPA levels among the families dropped when their diet changed — but levels of DEP, which is used in fragrances, didn't — underscores the importance of food packaging in exposing people to BPA.

Is this study significant?  Although this research was peer-reviewed, it was a small study and one that was carried out by environmental groups that have raised concerns about BPA and other potentially toxic chemicals in the past. But if you are worried enough about BPA and phthalates to want to cut down your exposure, avoid canned foods and use glass or stainless storage containers.  There are also more plastic  products available that are BPA-free, including baby bottles.

Industry has registered its skepticism of this study and the the American Chemistry Council has stated:
This study simply confirms these reassuring points: that consumers have minute exposures to BPA and DEHP from food sources, and that the substances do not stay in the body, but are quickly eliminated through natural means. Additionally, data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada have shown that typical consumer exposure to BPA and DEHP, from all sources, is up to 1,000 times lower than government-established safe exposure levels. “Consumers should feel confident that they can continue to eat healthy canned or packaged foods because materials intended for use in food contact are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

EDITOR'S NOTE:   This is an interesting article because it demonstrates how one study can be interpreted in several ways and why it is important to have large randomized controlled studies to get solid answers.     The "experiment" above sounds like it was well designed but the numbers are extremely small so questions about bias, misinterpretation and control are very possible.   The comment from the American Chemistry Council points out a common problem with epidemiology studies:  when does small exposure turn into unsafe levels of exposure?  This is one of the main reasons we cannot always prove cause and effect when we talk about environmental exposure.  Because this latter organization represents the chemical industry, they too can be biased.  The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program are finding new ways to study the impact of chemicals, especially related to their effect on our hormones, which should help get some solid answers.     BTW,  I've stopped microwaving in plastic.

Posted by on November 23, 2010 - 2:09pm

November is the busiest month of the year for the US Department of Agriculture Meat & Poultry Hotline. During the week of Thanksgiving(November 25), they get lots of questions about how to safely cook a turkey. Here are answers to some of the more common questions.

How can I tell when the turkey is done?

Whether you roast, brine, deep fry or smoke your turkey, always use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat. You won’t overcook your turkey, and you can ensure it has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing must also reach 165 °F.

How long does it take to cook a turkey?

Use the Turkey Roasting Chart to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate and based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.

Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state?

Yes, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet package before cooking your turkey (there are a lot of funny stories about first time turkey cookers who forget to do this!). Remove the giblets carefully with tongs or a fork and use the giblets for the gravy or dressing per your favorite recipe.

Can I cook two turkeys at the same time?

Cooking two turkeys of about the same weight does not double the roasting time. Cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird. Just make sure there is sufficient oven space for proper heat circulation.

What about storing leftovers?

Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days or freeze it. Use frozen turkey and stuffing leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Reheat to 165 °F or until hot and steaming. Gravy should come to a rolling boil.

Can I call the Meat & Poultry Hotline on Thanksgiving Day?

Yes! The Hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Call toll-free at 1-888-674-6854. (Our usual hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time.) You can also ask a question in English or Spanish at, available 24 hours a day

Posted by on September 28, 2010 - 8:58am

Did you know that perishable food carried in an old-fashioned brown bag can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime?  Now that children and teens are back in school, it may be a good idea to take a look at how you are packing your kids' lunches.  Most food experts recommend that an insulated lunch box is the best way to keep their lunches safe.   Insulated boxes help maintain food at a safe temperature until lunchtime.   Perishable foods such as cold cut sandwiches and yogurt , can be left out at room temperature for only 2 hours before they may become unsafe to eat.   But with an insulated box and a chilled freezer gel pack , perishable food can stay cold and safe to eat until lunch.  These suggestion also apply to mom and dad who bring their lunches to work.    However, in many cases, parents have access to refrigerators at work, something the kids don't have.

Other safety tips:

Clean Hands: Wash your hands before preparing lunches, and remind  your children to wash their hands before eating.

Freeze your juice box:  When frozen they can be used as freezer packs.   By lunchtime, the juice should be thawed and ready to drink.

Hot Foods:  To keep hot foods hot, use an insulated thermos bottle.

Non-perishable Foods:   Lunch items that don't need to be refrigerated include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, bread,  peanut butter, jelly, pickles and mustard,