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Ten Ways to Make Sure You Prepare a Safer Seasonal Feast This Year

Friday, December 26, 2008 by: Al G Smith
Tags: meals, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Pre-packaged and pre-prepared foodstuffs and uniformly `beautiful` fruits and vegetables on display in the local supermarket, grocery store or delicatessen can lead consumers to imagine that everything is clean and fit to eat. But sadly this is not always the case. Here are some key tips that will help you minimize both the man-made and naturally occurring food hazards that could otherwise lead to anything from an upset stomach, to serious debilitating illness and even death.

1) Firstly, considering fruits and vegetables, these otherwise `healthy foods` may yet be prone to certain toxic contamination. Surprisingly perhaps, fresh peaches are apparently amongst the most chemically contaminated foods you can buy. Tests have shown high levels of the regular doses of up to nine different pesticides still cling to the fuzzy peach skin when they reach the shops. This means that they should always be washed and peeled before eating them. Whenever possible buying organic is a good idea as the chemical-free farming practices mean that residues should be minimal.

Other fruits and vegetables that have been found to score high when tested for agro-chemical contaminants include apples, bell peppers, grapes, pears, and green beans. Once again choosing organic options will help to ensure that amounts of chemical residues in your greengroceries are minimized. Additionally, washing fruits and vegetables prior to eating them is always advisable.

2) Some vegetables can also become the source of bacterial food poisoning problems. Scallions, the green or spring onions, for example, have proven particularly hazardous and have been found to carry Shigella, Salmonella and Cryptospridium, which are all pathogenic organisms that are capable of making you very ill. In 2003, an infamous poisoning event occurred when hundreds of customers of one busy restaurant in the US became ill with Hepatitis A that was caused by contaminated and inadequately washed raw green onions. Three of the victims subsequently died from their illness.

3) Pre-packed salads can also be a health hazard for even though it may say `ready washed` or `ready to eat` on the packaging, you should not trust this to mean that the foods are clean enough to eat from the pack. Tests have shown that further thorough washing is often still required. So always wash pre-prepared greens thoroughly just as you would any fresh, raw produce. It is also necessary to be especially careful about `cross contamination`. As these foods are eaten raw, once a pack has been opened, should any other more hazardous foodstuff come into contact with the contents it could pass bacteria on to ill-effect. Research has indicated that in US 11 out of 100 cases of food poisoning are due to contaminated salad stuffs.

It is important to note that if vegetables are eaten raw - washing alone can never get rid of all bacteria that might be present. But thorough washing and choosing organic products will help reduce potential problems to a minimum - along with purchasing only refrigerated goods (if you buy from a supermarket or store) and keeping them cool (under 5 degrees) at all times prior to use.

4) Another problem can be that hard fruits, like apples and pears, are coated in wax to preserve shelf life and add extra aesthetic appeal. But the wax itself can harbor the chemical contaminants that are best not eaten. You can avoid consuming at least some of these toxic materials by gently washing fruits with a mild detergent then thoroughly rinsing them. Better still, peeling the fruit before eating it will remove the waxy layer although, in the case of non-organic produce in particular, it is never possible to get rid of the cellular level contamination that can be detected in much of the fruit grown using modern farming methods these days.

5) It may well be thought that melon would be a fairly `safe` food, but the reality is somewhat different. Cantaloupe have regularly tested positive for carrying pathogenic bacteria including Salmonella and Shigella. Bacterial loads may in part be due to careless manual handling and storage. But as melons are a crop that grows on the ground they are prone to picking up soil borne contamination such as Salmonella amongst others. Do not buy or use melons with broken skin, which may have allowed the fruit to become internally contaminated. Always wash the exterior well, before cutting the fruit, using a little mild detergent and a brush reserved solely for using on fruit and vegetables to avoid any cross-contamination to or from other foods.

6) Moving on to consider meats of all kinds, these have long been regarded as potential sources of potentially harmful bacteria. Minced or ground beef and other ground meats, in particular, are a potential problem because the meat has such a large surface area - every piece of minced meat could become a threat. If even one small piece of mince is contaminated this can soon lead to the whole batch becoming a toxic hazard. Tests on samples of ground beef in the US revealed very high levels of contamination with some of the worst pathogenic food poisoning bacteria such as Listeria, Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus (which usually comes from human sources) and even E.Coli the faecal bacteria that may have contaminated meat in poorly maintained slaughtering operations.

Thoroughly cooking beef patties/burgers when homemade is essential - they should not be eaten rare or pink. Avoid trying to broil or barbecue patties that are too thick - make them thin and easy to cook through. Using herbs such as oregano can also add both flavor and act as a proven, effective natural bactericide.

7) White meats do not fare any better than red when it comes to contamination problems. Ground turkey samples, for instance, have been shown to be regularly contaminated. In a US study around a quarter of samples hosted one or more of the range of key poisoning bacteria - Campylobacter, Clostridium, Salmonella and/or Listeria.

In the US studies have also discovered that a high proportion of oven ready chickens are contaminated with bacteria - with over 4 in 10 being infected with Campylobacter jejeuni (jejuni) and more than 10 percent with Salmonella. Free range and organic chickens are a better choice for the table as they will have had better living conditions which reduces the likelihood of becoming exposed to so much potential contamination. The current advice is simply not to wash poultry prior to cooking it (as may be traditional) but to take it from package to pan and cook it directly. This avoids the possible contamination of sinks, surfaces, cloths and counters from which other foods may pick up bacterial problems.

8) The humble egg has also long been known to be able to host potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. It is now claimed that only about 1 in 20,000 commercially produced, raw eggs is likely to be infected with this fearsome bug, but there is still a need to use sanitary protocol in handling eggs. Although eggs are usually washed before packaging, they may still retain some faecal deposits even if they are not visible to the naked eye, which could well harbor bacteria that could lead to food poisoning. So, eggs should always be be handled and stored with care, and should not be allowed to contact other foods. Also they should always be kept chilled prior to use to avoid the potential proliferation of bacteria. Cracked eggs should never be used in case of bacterial ingress, and eggs should always be sufficiently well cooked (to a temperature in excess of 63 degrees throughout) to be sure that any possible Salmonellae are destroyed.

9) Some seafood has also proven to be hazardous unless wise eating choices are made. Those items that are sometimes eaten raw, such as oysters, are potentially dangerous to consume as many have been shown to carry elevated bacterial loads. Such shellfish are often cultivated in waters where faecal contamination such as E.coli has been confirmed, so eating raw fish of any kind could naturally carry increased risks. This is particularly a problem with supplies of oysters grown in Northern waters during the summer months when water borne bacterial loads are at their peak. The best general advice is simply not to eat raw fish of any kind.

10) Those foodstuffs that require no further cooking or preparation after buying are also commonly referred to as `high-risk` foods because they could become a hazard unless kept and handled very hygienically. Such items include all cold cooked/sliced meats that you might find on the delicatessen counters of supermarkets and smaller stores. Such items are particularly popular during the Christmas season so it is well to bear in mind the following tips.

Although pre-cooked, cold meats should be safe to buy in the vast majority of cases - and any sensible consumer should be able to see if a meat product is `near the end of the piece` or looking a `a bit stale` so avoid buying it - such products can very quickly deteriorate. Even if transferred rapidly to a domestic refrigerator, after purchase, and kept at appropriately low temperature, cold meats can soon become hazardous because bugs such as Listeria can still thrive. Ideally these items should be eaten within a day of purchase.

On the whole, vacuum sealed, pre-sliced cold meats with a substantial, packet-endorsed shelf-life are probably a safer option if you do not plan to eat the meat immediately. Just remember that once vacuum packed food is opened it is important to continue to keep it well chilled and not to exceed the three-day rule for consuming the product. And if you choose to eat such foods regularly you should also bear in mind that most of them contain preservative salts such as nitrates and nitrites that have garnered a bad reputation in recent years for their likely role in increasing your risk of developing colon cancer.

It is estimated that every day in the US alone some 800,000 people suffer symptoms they many may put down to a stomach bug, but which actually arise from eating contaminated food. Food poisoning can be deadly serious as evidenced by the deaths that followed the Hepatitis A outbreak caused by scallions back in 2003. Numerous older folk, children and babies and immuno-suppressed people also die each year from the debilitating effect of food poisoning symptoms.

It`s a good idea to become clued up about how bacteria are spread, how cross-contamination can be avoided and how to handle food to minimize the risk of contamination and bacterial growth. This is especially the case during the seasonal periods, such as Christmas, when a large amount of food may be prepared, stored and eaten at home. For all the newsworthiness of occasional food poisoning events blamed on restaurants by far the vast majority of food poisoning is actually caused by poor domestic food-handling practices.

So, in summary:
- Be sure to choose wholesome fresh food from reputable sources
- Choose to buy organic produce whenever possible
- Wash fruit and vegetable well and peel them if possible
- Always cook things thoroughly
- Store raw and cooked food in separate areas within a refrigerator (or separate refrigerators) and
- Make sure that the temperature for storing fresh food is between zero and 5 degrees.

And hopefully your family will have a happier, healthier holiday season free from nasty stomach bugs or worse!

Reference sources include:
Handbook of Food Toxicology By S. S. Deshpande, Chapter 13 (Ref: Oysters and food poisoning events)

About the author

Al G Smith MSc BSc - Has been working and teaching in the food related sector for over 30 years and is currently a website publisher (http://www.gonaturalandorganic.com) and Independent Representative for the World's first extensive range of Certified Organic skin care and cosmetics (http://www.saferalternative.com).

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