Safety tactics differ for different foods

113234180I recently saw something about the government increasing its efforts to combat Salmonella in poultry. But isn’tSalmonella also a potential problem in fresh produce? Why not include fruits and vegetables, too?

You’re right. Fresh produce also can be contaminated with Salmonella or other pathogens, but there are good reasons why it was not included in the Salmonella Action Plan that you heard about.

First, the agency overseeing the plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, regulates meat, poultry and processed egg products and does not have any authority to make rules for other foods.

Also, the farm-to-fork production chains of poultry and fresh produce are very different, requiring completely different strategies. It makes sense to separate the two.

Another agency, the Food and Drug Administration under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is in charge of overseeing produce safety, and it is also working on battlingSalmonella. For example, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was passed in January 2011. Under that law, early this year the FDA proposed Produce Safety Standards with new regulations designed to prevent contamination of fruits and vegetables that are normally eaten raw.

Although those standards are not finalized yet, the industry is making other attempts to protect consumers, such as guidelines for producing, storing and transporting cantaloupes and similar types of melons. Those guidelines, released earlier this year, resulted after dozens of cantaloupe-related outbreaks starting in 1990.

The reasons for the increasing emphasis on Salmonella are clear: It’s the most common cause of foodborne-illness related hospitalizations in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses in the U.S., is the No. 1 cause of foodborne illness-related deaths, and costs about $365 million in medical expenses every year. As with any foodborne illness, children, older adults, pregnant women and those with chronic illness are most at risk.

To reduce the risk from Salmonella and other pathogens, be sure to cook foods thoroughly; properly rinse fresh produce before eating or cutting; and wash your hands, utensils and surfaces before handling food. For details, see “Quick Tips for Preventing Salmonella” from the CDC at

Exercise for the health of it

177522302My sister seems to think she can eat as much as she wants over the holidays and not gain weight as long as she exercises more. I’m skeptical. Who’s right? 

It really depends. The key is to balance calories you take in with the calories you use up.

But most weight-loss specialists say a combination of diet and exercise — not one or the other — is what’s needed, especially when indulging in special treats.

That makes sense. Figure it this way: If you estimate an average Christmas cookie has about 100 calories, and your sister eats as many as she wants — say, five? — that’s 500 calories she will need to work off if she doesn’t cut back calories somewhere else. For a 160-pound person, that’s an extra hour of high-impact aerobics, or nearly two extra hours of walking at a moderate to brisk pace. And that’s just to counterbalance the cookies. It doesn’t count any other bouts of excess.

Recent research backs up this line of thinking. A Texas Tech University study published in September in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition involved 148 people from mid-November to early January. Half said they regularly exercised almost five hours a week. The others didn’t exercise regularly.

Guess what? The men in the study gained an average of two pounds during the holidays, and women gained about a pound. Participants who were obese tended to gain more. But the amount of exercise a person engaged in just didn’t seem to make a difference. The researchers weren’t sure why; it could be that people who exercised a lot also consumed more calories. The study wasn’t designed to answer that question.

Still, your sister’s idea has merit: Physical activity offers more benefits than just expending calories.

In fact, another study, published in November in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicates that you’re never too old to reap those benefits.

The study involved data from 3,500 people who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging between 2002-03 and 2010-11. With an average age of 64, every two years the participants reported their level of physical activity.

After eight years, the researchers found that those who engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity at least once a week were three to four times more likely to remain healthy.

While the study doesn’t prove cause-and-effect, it’s clear that engaging in exercise — during the holidays and year-round — can be the gift that keeps on giving.