CFAES center offers food safety resources, information

Is there a local source that I can use to find information and resources on food recalls?

While there are several online sources of information on food recalls, the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) at The Ohio State University not only publishes information on the latest food recalls, it also provides multiple food safety resources, training, education, and information.

Founded as a nonprofit organization in 2006, CFI brought its 14-year record of protecting public health to Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) in September 2019.

The center, which is now housed within the CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology, has a mission to advance a more scientific, risk-based food safety system that prevents foodborne illnesses and protects public health by translating science into policy and practice, said Barbara Kowalcyk, a recognized food safety expert and CFAES assistant professor of food safety and public health.

“In bringing CFI to Ohio State, we hope to build a stronger network of food safety experts who have the resources and talent to address existing and emerging food safety problems,” said Kowalcyk, who is also the center’s co-founder and director. “As knowledge brokers, we then work to translate science into practical, evidence-informed policies that protect public health and prevent foodborne disease.”

This is significant, considering the World Health Organization estimates that 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths are caused annually by 31 foodborne hazards worldwide. In the United States, serious foodborne bacteria, viruses, and fungi cause an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year, conservatively causing $77.7 billion in medical costs and lost productivity.

The CFI website can be found at foodsafety.osu.edu. Some of the information on the site includes:

  • Links to food safety-related research
  • Food safety education and training resources
  • Webinars
  • Food safety online courses
  • Consumer awareness and education information
  • Information on food safety training
  • Information on food safety outreach and public service
  • Links to foodborne safety organizations and resources
  • A food safety blog

Additionally, among its many contributions, the center collaborated with other groups to develop, pass, and implement the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA), which was the first major overhaul of food safety oversight at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in more than 70 years. FSMA shifts the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them.

The center also joined multiple efforts to strengthen government resources for national and state food safety programs, and it led an effort to require mandatory labeling of mechanically tenderized beef products, which have been associated with foodborne illnesses, Kowalcyk said.

During its tenure at CFAES, the center “is working to connect the many people at Ohio State who are working on different aspects of food safety into an active network and help those outside Ohio State find the expertise they need within the university,” said Kara Morgan, associate director of CFI.

“Our inaugural event last November, ‘Translating Science into Policy and Practice: What are the food safety priorities?’ was our initial effort and brought together over 100 people from around Ohio,” Morgan said. “Also, a webinar was held in June about food safety and COVID-19 to commemorate World Food Safety Day.”

To subscribe to the CFI listserv, you can click on the red icon on the foodsafety.osu.edu site or at go.osu.edu/CFIsubscribe.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Barbara Kowalcyk, director, CFI, and an assistant professor at CFAES’ Department of Food Science and Technology.

Meat thermometer is the best option to ensure food safety when grilling meat

Why should I use a meat thermometer while barbecuing steak on the grill? Can’t you just look at the steak to determine if it’s done by the color of the meat?

Grilling New York strip steak on outdoor gas grill. Photo: Getty Images.

Although many people use color as an indicator of doneness when grilling meats, to lessen your chance of developing a foodborne illness, it’s best to use a meat thermometer to ensure that your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature.

Your question is very timely, considering that July is National Grilling Month, with July 4th generally accepted as the most popular U.S. holiday for grilling, surveys have shown. And because your question is very similar to one that was asked in a previous “Chow Line” column, it’s best answered by reissuing that column here.

According to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, only 34% of the public uses a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers.

But, in order to avoid foodborne illness, the USDA advises consumers to use a food thermometer to accurately measure if meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that might be present.

The safe minimum cooking temperature for ground meats, including beef, pork, veal, and lamb, is 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Turkey and chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, according to the USDA. Steak and pork can be safely cooked to 145 degrees.

To gauge the most accurate temperature, place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the food.

In addition, the USDA says that you should allow a three-minute rest time after removing the meat from the heat source. During this rest time, the temperature of the meat remains constant or continues to rise, thereby helping to destroy any pathogens that might be present.

The problem with using color as an indicator of doneness for ground beef, for instance, is if raw ground beef is somewhat brown already, it might look fully cooked before it reaches a safe temperature. Different levels of oxygenation at different locations inside and on the surface of the meat can cause the meat to look red on the outside and brown on the inside.

So, if the meat is already brown, it won’t change color during cooking, the USDA says.

Here are some other tips for safe grilling from the USDA and the National Fire Protection Association:

  • When marinating meat or poultry, do so in a tightly sealed container kept in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or colder, or place the meat in an iced cooler if you are transporting the food. It’s important to keep the meat chilled because bacteria that can cause foodborne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.
  • Use propane and charcoal grills outdoors only.
  • Place your grill well away from your home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease and fat buildup from the grills and trays below the grills.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • For charcoal grills, use only lighter fluid designed for grilling. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids, and never add more lighter fluid once the fire has started.
  • Don’t cover or store your grill until it has cooled. Soak coals with water before throwing them away.

Keeping these safety tips in mind can help you have enjoyable barbecues without the worry of getting sick from eating undercooked meats.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was originally reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

Avoid hand sanitizers that contain methanol alcohol

I’ve been searching for hand sanitizer and finally found a large bottle at a nearby store. The problem is, when I got home, I found out that it has methanol alcohol in it. Is it safe to use, and is it effective against COVID-19?

Bottle of a hand sanitizer. Photo: Getty Images.

No, it’s not safe to use, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a series of advisories posted over the past several days, the FDA has issued warnings about several hand sanitizers that contain methanol alcohol, because methanol can cause serious side effects when absorbed through the skin and can cause blindness or death when swallowed.

In fact, the FDA has published a list of hand sanitizers that it is advising consumers not to use because of potential methanol contamination. The federal agency said consumers should “check your hand sanitizer products to see if they are on this list and dispose of them immediately if they are.”

“Most hand sanitizers found to contain methanol do not list it as an ingredient on the label since it is not an acceptable ingredient in the product,” the FDA said in a written statement. “It’s important to check the FDA’s list to see if the company or product is included.”

The FDA said that some of the hand sanitizers on its published list have labels that say the product contains ethanol—also known as ethyl alcohol—but that have instead tested positive for methanol contamination.

Methanol, which is also known as wood alcohol, is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects, the FDA said.

“Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning,” the federal agency said.

Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, or death, the FDA said.

“Hand sanitizers should contain 60% or more alcohol to be effective against coronavirus,” said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Also, your hands have to already be visibly clean in order for the hand sanitizer to be effective in killing germs, bacteria, and viruses,” she said. “Sanitizer kills on contact, but if your hands are already dirty, the sanitizer will not be effective against bacteria because it’s consumed by the organic matter (or dirt) as soon as it makes contact.”

“That prevents the sanitizer from even making contact with the bacteria you are trying to kill.”

Ilic said it’s best to wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds, but if you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains 60% or more alcohol to clean your hands and then reuse it a second time right away to ensure your hands have been sanitized.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.

Don’t bleach your food to protect against COVID-19

I’m really worried about COVID-19 and want to keep my family safe, so lately, I’ve been rinsing my fresh fruits and vegetables with a mixture of bleach and water. That’s safe, right?

Photo: Getty Images.

No, that is not safe. You should NEVER wash or rinse ANY food product with any form of bleach, disinfectant, or any other household cleaning chemicals.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a notice to consumers alerting them to the dangers of rinsing, soaking, or washing any food products with bleach or disinfectant, after a significant number of consumers have been doing just that.

Calls to poison centers around the country regarding exposures to cleaners and disinfectants have increased sharply since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC said.

This comes as 42% of consumers who responded to a May 2020 poll conducted by OnePoll on behalf of HelloFresh, said that they worry about the cleanliness of the products they buy and the overall environment while grocery shopping, according to published reports. The survey of 2,000 Americans polled how consumer views on grocery shopping have changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

And in a May 2020 online survey of 502 U.S. adults conducted by the CDC, 39% of respondents reported they engaged in at least one of the following high-risk practices with the intent of preventing COVID-19 transmission:

  • Intentionally inhaling or ingesting cleaners and disinfectants
  • Drinking or gargling diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, and other cleaning and disinfectant solutions
  • Using bleach on food products such as fruits and vegetables
  • Applying household cleaning and disinfectant products to hands or skin
  • Misting the body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray

Given the high percentage of individuals engaging in these unsafe practices, the CDC recommends that public messaging should continue to “emphasize evidence-based, safe practices such as hand hygiene and recommended cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in household settings.”

“That messaging should also emphasize avoidance of high-risk practices such as unsafe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of bleach on food products, application of household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin, and inhalation or ingestion of cleaners and disinfectants,” the CDC said in a written statement.

It’s also important to understand that there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is a foodborne disease, Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), has said.

She said that COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual, speaks, coughs, or sneezes. The virus is most often transferred to another individual when droplets directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake.

The virus can also transmit when a person touches an object or surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or eyes before washing their hands, Ilic said.

However, fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, so you should rinse produce under running water before preparing or eating it, according to Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety expert and an assistant professor at CFAES’ Department of Food Science and Technology.

“The only exception is prewashed produce and raw meat and poultry products,” said Kowalcyk, who is also director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) at CFAES. “Washing those products will actually increase the risk of foodborne illness because it can spread pathogens around.”

Fruits and vegetables that have skin should also be rinsed under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking them, even if you don’t plan to eat the skin, she said.

“That is because peeling or cutting unwashed produce can transfer dirt or other contaminates from the surface of the produce to the portion of the fruit or vegetable you plan to eat,” Kowalcyk said. “Firm produce such as melons, apples, and cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush before peeling or cutting into them.

“They should then be dried off with a clean paper towel or cloth to further reduce harmful bacteria that might be present on the skin. Importantly, produce should be washed with water only. Never use soap, a bleach solution, or other sanitizers to wash produce.”

Lastly, don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after food preparation and before eating.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor at CFAES’ Department of Food Science and Technology, and previously reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.