Stay safe by signing up for food recall alerts

My wife was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and so we are both watching what we eat much more carefully. I was surprised to learn that she needs to be more careful about foodborne illness now. We think we do pretty good at following guidelines at home, but how can we find out about food recalls?

Good for you for being aware that you need to be, well, more aware.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 of us will suffer from foodborne illness every year, at-risk groups of people are more likely to get sick from contaminated food, and the illnesses can be much more severe. People with diabetes are 25 to 30 times more likely to get sick with listeriosis, for example, than a healthy adult.

Anyone with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or even cancer, HIV/AIDS or lupus, is more at risk. Other at-risk individuals include pregnant women, adults who are over age 65, and children who are younger than 5.

And you’re right, if you’re relying on mass media or word of mouth, it can be hard to keep up with all the food recalls these days. In 2015, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service issued 150 recall notices, and that agency covers just meat and animal products. There’s no single government agency to track all food recalls, but early this year, Food Safety Magazine (foodsafetymagazine.com) did a compilation itself, counting a total of 626 food recalls for 2015 from the FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration, the two agencies responsible for food safety in the U.S., as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As in most years, many of the recalls in 2015 were related to food packages not being properly labeled for food allergens, such as milk and dairy, peanuts, eggs, wheat, and soy. While that could be a serious problem for the estimated 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergens, it wouldn’t be an issue for you if no one in your household has a problem with those ingredients.

Still, a number of major recalls were due to the presence of human pathogens. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to get notified by email whenever a recall is issued.

Just go to foodsafety.gov, and click on Recalls and Alerts. Choose “Get Automatic Alerts” and fill in your email address. That way you’ll be notified of any recalls that have been issued.

You also can view recent recalls on the website. For example, last month there was an expansion of an earlier recall of frozen fruits and vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods and marketed under dozens of brand names. The food items have been associated with a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections, which can be serious, and even fatal, for at-risk populations. Even if you sign up for email alerts today, you would miss that notice if you didn’t check the “See Recent Recalls” listing. When it comes to food safety, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Why food safety is vital during pregnancy

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

Why are pregnant women at greater risk of foodborne illness?

When a woman becomes pregnant, she undergoes all sorts of physical changes that are necessary for her body to accept and nurture the growing baby in her womb.

One of those changes involves part of the mother’s immune system called “cell-mediated immunity.” When it’s working normally, cell-mediated immunity helps fight the kinds of pathogens that move from cell to cell. This doesn’t affect the part of the immune system that involves antibodies, which remains fully functioning during pregnancy.

Cell-mediated immunity is the type of immunity involved when a person has an organ transplant and the body rejects the new organ, thinking it’s a foreign invader. When a woman becomes pregnant, the body suppresses this function to allow the body to accept the fetus.

That’s all well and good, but it does put the mother and fetus at higher risk for some types of foodborne illness.

According to foodsafety.gov, the federal government’s hub for food safety information, the top five pathogens related to food poisoning during pregnancy are bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella, and a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Depending on the pathogen and the severity of the illness, these can cause miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth or birth defects in the fetus, as well as serious health problems for the mother.

Food Safety for Pregnant Women, online at foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant, provides details about each of these pathogens as well as other guidelines, including:

  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and products made from it. Soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco and queso fresco are frequently made with unpasteurized milk. Some hard cheeses are also made with raw or unpasteurized milk. Always read the label.
  • Avoid unpasteurized juice or cider. Even fresh-squeezed juice has been associated with E. coli.
  • Avoid raw seafood and be selective with smoked seafood. Both pose a risk from Listeria. Smoked seafood is OK only if it is canned or otherwise processed to be shelf-stable (the kind that doesn’t need refrigeration), or is an ingredient in a casserole or other dish cooked to at least 165 degrees F.
  • Avoid premade ham, chicken, tuna or other meat or seafood salads, such as those you can buy in a deli. Make them at home instead.
  • Don’t eat hot dogs or lunchmeats unless you’ve heated them to steaming hot — 165 degrees F.
  • Be sure any eggs you eat are cooked until the yolk is firm. Any casseroles or foods containing raw eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees F. Avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs, including unpasteurized eggnog, cookie or cake batter, Caesar salad dressing, tiramisu, eggs Benedict, homemade ice cream and freshly made hollandaise sauce.

For more details, see foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Think long, hard before choosing raw milk

chow_010816-481189962What are the risks and benefits of raw milk?  

If you ask proponents of raw milk, the product offers a range of benefits. But if you ask scientists, public health authorities or food safety experts — or those who have suffered severe illnesses from consumption of raw milk and products made from it — the risks far outweigh any potential upside.

Raw milk was in the news recently when routine testing found Listeria bacteria in raw milk from a dairy in Pennsylvania, where sales of the product are legal. Fortunately, no illnesses were reported.  In Ohio, raw milk cannot be sold for human consumption, but consumers can participate in “herd-share agreements” in which they own part of a herd and can collect raw milk from it.

Listeria are one of many organisms killed with pasteurization, which heats milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time to kill bacteria responsible for diseases, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli. Pasteurization is generally recognized by health professionals as one of the most effective food safety interventions ever.

While pasteurization removes 99.999 percent of bacteria, it can’t provide a 100 percent guarantee of safety. But the risk from raw milk is much greater. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the risk of illness from raw milk is at least 150 times greater than the risk from pasteurized milk.

In addition, the health benefits of raw milk are unclear. In a 2014 Johns Hopkins University review of studies, authors found no evidence that the benefits from drinking raw milk outweigh the risks.

Despite the risks, some states have legalized the sale of raw milk in order to give consumers a choice. With rising interest in raw, unprocessed foods and increased availability, illnesses linked to raw milk are increasing.

A 2015 study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported that the average annual number of outbreaks caused by raw milk was four times higher from 2007-2012 than it was from 1993-2006. In addition, the number of outbreaks linked to raw milk increased from 30 from 2007-2009 to 51 in 2010-2012. Those 81 outbreaks caused 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations.

Although outbreaks are increasing, they are still relatively rare because there are still relatively few raw milk consumers. That’s one reason why many feel safe drinking unpasteurized milk: You can drink it for years and never suffer ill effects.

But that’s a false sense of security, health officials say. Unpasteurized milk can carry bacteria that cause disease. And the potential for harm goes beyond a few days of tummy troubles: These bacteria can cause life-threatening diseases that can result in kidney failure, stroke or paralysis. The risk is particularly high for young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems due to conditions such as cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or an organ transplant.

Before you make a decision for you and your family, please review information from the CDC, including three videos of people telling their stories of serious illnesses linked to raw milk, at go.osu.edu/CDCrawmilk.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension field specialist in Food Safety.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: If you’re at risk, be aware of Listeria

chow_071015-87514165Last weekend at a cookout, I ate a raw hot dog. Someone there told me I should never eat raw hot dogs because of the risk of foodborne illness. But I always thought hot dogs are already cooked, and you really only need to heat them up if you want them hot. Who is right?

Hot dogs, or rather frankfurters or wieners, are cooked (sometimes smoked) sausages. Although most people can eat them “raw” without a problem, a foodborne illness outbreak in 1998 associated with unheated hot dogs and deli meats caused 108 illnesses, four miscarriages and 14 fatalities. The culprit was Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause the illness listeriosis, especially in pregnant women and other high-risk populations.

Those populations include people who are taking immunity-suppressing drugs, those with diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system, and anyone over the age of 60. If you’re in one of those groups, heat hot dogs until steaming hot and keep them at 140 degrees F until served.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare but severe disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1,600 people become ill with it each year, compared with an estimated 1.2 million illnesses from Salmonella bacteria. But of those who get listeriosis, an estimated 1 in 6 die. That’s one reason why you should take it seriously.

Another fact to keep in mind: Listeria is different from many other foodborne pathogens because it can actually grow in the fridge. The more cells there are of a pathogen, the higher risk it poses. Not to be a killjoy, but you should remember this the next time you consider eating a cold dog instead of hot dog.

Unfortunately, Listeria isn’t confined to lunchmeats and frankfurters. The largest outbreak in the U.S. was in 2011, when listeriosis associated with cantaloupes from a Colorado farm caused 147 illnesses, 33 deaths and one miscarriage. Earlier, in 1985, listeriosis from Mexican-style soft cheese contaminated with raw milk caused 142 illnesses, 18 deaths, and 20 miscarriages or stillbirths. Other recent outbreaks have been associated with ice cream, commercially sold caramel apples, cheese and raw sprouts. As you can see, many foods associated with Listeria monocytogenes aren’t normally cooked before eaten, so we lose that protective step with those foods.

According to the CDC, Listeria is found in the environment and we’re exposed to it regularly. If you’re at higher risk of foodborne illness, pay heed if you become very sick with fever and muscle aches or stiff neck, or if you’re pregnant and develop mild flu-like symptoms. These are symptoms of listeriosis — contact your doctor immediately.

To reduce your risk, avoid drinking raw milk or products made from raw milk; rinse produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating; and wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing raw foods. For more information, see www.foodsafety.gov and look under “Food Poisoning” for listeria.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

News: Chow Line: Focus on what causes most foodborne illness

chow_030615_178082621What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF version of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Find out details when foods are recalled

chow_013015_519545275A friend told me that there has been an apple recall. She said only certain varieties were affected, but couldn’t remember which ones. Where can I learn more about this kind of thing? 

There actually have been two recent recalls related to apples, both of which were linked to a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. It is a deadly pathogen and you’re lucky to have a friend who will warn you about such recalls.

One recall began because of an ongoing outbreak of L. monocytogenes. The outbreak was traced to commercially produced caramel apples made from Gala and Granny Smith apples grown and processed by a company in California, Bidart Bros. Seven people have died in the outbreak, and 31 were hospitalized in 11 states around the country.

At first, just caramel apples were recalled, but when L. monocytogenes was found at the company’s apple-packing facility, the firm recalled all of its Gala and Granny Smith apples. You should know that these are two of the most widely grown apple varieties, and apples from other growers and processors are not linked to this outbreak.

However, if you have caramel apples at home purchased before Dec. 24, 2014, or Gala or Granny Smith apples purchased before Jan. 6, and you’re not sure if they are affected, check the advisory from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/caramel-apples-12-14/advice-consumers.html, or check with your grocery store. If you do have them, throw them away immediately. Place them in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash to prevent other people or animals from eating them.

Although L. monocytogenes accounts for a relatively small fraction of foodborne illness, it’s particularly lethal: An estimated 18 percent of those who contract listeriosis die. Most at risk are older adults; pregnant women; patients undergoing cancer treatment, transplants or receiving medications that suppress the immune system; people with AIDS or other immuno-compromising conditions, such as liver or kidney disease or insulin-dependent diabetes; and small children.

There was another recall on Dec. 10, 2014, for fresh-cut Gala apples grown in Pennsylvania and prepared and distributed by Del Monte Fresh. No illnesses have been reported related to this recall, but a random test by the Ohio Department of Agriculture found L. monocytogenes on the fresh-cut fruit. Grocery stores often used these apples in snack packs and other packaged, ready-to-eat fruit bowls. It’s not likely anyone would still have these items on hand, but a complete list of products affected is online at www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm426419.htm.

The best place to look for recalls of fresh produce and other products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration is www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls. This website has an easy-to-use search function to help you find details quickly.

Also, you can see recently recalled foods at foodsafety.gov/recalls, which includes foods regulated by both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (primarily meat products).

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Bottom line: Don’t wash poultry

84467038We had a cookout at my sister’s house last weekend and I noticed she rinsed off her chicken in the sink before preparing it for cooking. Are we supposed to do that? 

In a word, no. In three words, no, no, no!

Your sister may be confusing food safety guidelines for poultry with those for produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed under running water before cutting into or consuming them. But poultry really shouldn’t be.

Raw poultry is likely to harbor bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella. A well-publicized study by Consumer Reports earlier this year found 97 percent of the 316 chicken breasts tested were contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick.

The thing is, cooking, not rinsing, is what destroys the bacteria. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to be safe. (Always use a meat thermometer to be sure.)

So, your sister might argue, why not rinse it beforehand? Isn’t that just an extra measure of safety? The answer is: Nope.

The reason is twofold, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. First, some bacteria commonly on the surface of meat and poultry are so tightly attached that no amount of rinsing will ever get them off. Second, and even more important, other types of bacteria are easily washed off — and when you put that raw chicken under the tap, the water is likely to splash all over the sink, the nearby countertop — and on you. And that can cause cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination is one of the primary causes of foodborne illness. Bacteria on your hands and on food-preparation surfaces can contaminate food that otherwise would have been just fine. It’s easy to imagine that, once cooked and relieved of the nasty bacteria, that perfectly fine chicken is placed on a platter that your sister had placed near the sink where she washed the chicken. The platter may look clean, but it could hold bacteria that would re-contaminate the chicken. The bacteria could also splash on her arms, clothing and other surfaces. Rinsing poultry and other raw meat is not only unnecessary, it’s not worth the risk.

You might send your sister a link to New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences “Don’t Wash Your Chicken!” website, at aces.nmsu.edu/dontwashyourchicken/. It includes several videos and cooking demonstrations repeating the same message: Don’t. Wash. Chicken.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Take steps against foodborne illness

145836540I got hit with a nasty bug last week, and I wonder if it might have been food poisoning. I’m OK now, but what kinds of food poisoning are most common, and what are the symptoms?

Generally, foodborne illness symptoms can be mild or severe, and include everything from upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration.

Many times, it’s difficult even for doctors to differentiate between foodborne illness and other types of gastrointestinal distress. But experts estimate that 48 million Americans each year become ill from contaminated food. So, it’s a good idea to know where it’s likely to come from and to take steps to prevent it.

To keep track of foodborne illness, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (or FoodNet, online at cdc.gov/foodnet) collects information from 10 states accounting for about 15 percent of the U.S. population. The system is designed to determine trends in foodborne illness: which bugs are declining and which are on the rise. The program is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ten state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the Food and Drug Administration.

In the report card for 2013, released in April 2014, FoodNet revealed:

• Cases from Salmonella were down compared with 2010-2012, but this bug still caused the highest number of foodborne illness in the U.S.: 7,277 confirmed cases in the states covered by FoodNet in 2013. There are many different types of Salmonella. The most common type identified — 19 percent of the Salmonella cases in 2013 — was Salmonella enteritidis, associated with raw or undercooked eggs. Salmonella is also commonly associated with raw poultry and other meat, and also unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables (such as alfalfa sprouts, melons), and even spices and nuts.

• Next on the FoodNet list was Campylobacter, which caused 6,621 confirmed illnesses. Campylobacter is also associated with raw and undercooked poultry and unpasteurized milk, as well as contaminated water.

To help prevent foodborne illness, the most important things to do are wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling raw food, and cook meat and eggs thoroughly. For more guidance, seefoodsafety.gov.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Enjoy seafood, but do so safely

187004239I read about a seafood processor that was shut down because of food safety concerns. We’re trying to eat more seafood these days. Should we be doing anything special to avoid foodborne illness?

Eating more seafood is a great choice for a healthful diet, but it’s good that you’re aware of potential food safety concerns. Outbreaks associated with seafood have been caused by a variety of bugs, including norovirus, salmonella, vibrio and others. And recently, two seafood processors, one in New York City and another in Seattle, were shut down because of concerns over Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens commonly associated with seafood are killed with proper cooking. But listeria is often associated with ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses, sprouts, raw milk and, yes, smoked seafood.

Listeria primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of listeria cases are fatal, making it the third leading cause of death from food poisoning.

To reduce your risk of seafood-related foodborne illness, the Food and Drug Administration offers a great primer, “Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely,” athttp://1.usa.gov/FDAfish. Tips include:

  • Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Fish should be opaque and separate easily with a fork; shrimp and lobster will become pearly and opaque.
  • Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy or sour. Spoiled seafood can have an ammonia odor that becomes stronger after cooking. If you smell such an odor from raw or cooked fish, throw it away.
  • Avoid frozen seafood with ice crystals or frost, which indicates it may be old or have been thawed and refrozen.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they are likely to have higher amounts of methylmercury, which can harm the development of a child’s nervous system. They should also limit fish consumption to 12 ounces a week and choose types known to be lower in mercury: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Canned albacore (white) tuna is somewhat higher in mercury and should be limited to 6 ounces a week.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Keep spreading word on food safety

95019142Due to my work, I have learned a lot about food safety. But no matter what I say, friends and family think I’m too finicky, and they continue to take what I think are unnecessary risks. How can I get my message across?

Don’t be discouraged. It’s often difficult for people to distinguish between words to the wise and the cries of Chicken Little. But at least some of your guidance about practical food safety measures just might sink in over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that each year, about 1 in 6 Americans get a case of foodborne illness. Most people recover within a few days, but of those estimated 48 million cases, 128,000 result in hospitalizations, and 3,000 are fatal.

Some foodborne illnesses can cause long-lasting effects, including kidney failure (from some types of E. coli bacteria), chronic arthritis (occasionally from infections from Shigella, Salmonella or Campylobacter), and brain and nerve damage (possible from Campylobacterand, in infants, from Listeria).

So, food safety guidance shouldn’t just be shrugged off. But too commonly, it is. Recent research reveals that 64 percent of families admit to not using a food thermometer regularly to check the temperature of meat and poultry, and 33 percent aren’t using different or freshly cleaned cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination between raw meat and produce.

You might suggest that your friends and family get online and take a look athttp://www.foodsafety.gov, a one-stop shop for food safety-related information from the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Currently, the site features “Recipes for Disaster,” a new campaign with pointed messages on food safety, co-sponsored by the Ad Council.

Included is a listing of 10 common food safety myths (explaining, for example, why the “smell test” for leftovers doesn’t hold up) and an accompanying list of dangerous food safety mistakes to avoid.

You can also point them to Ohio State University’s Food Safety website athttp://foodsafety.osu.edu. The experts behind that site also offer a food safety hotline at 800-752-2751 (Ohio only) or foodsafety@osu.edu.

Perhaps with the weight of that kind of expertise behind you, your friends and family will begin to heed your warnings. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a case of foodborne illness to do that.