Is our food really safe? Ashley Reding, a farmer from Howardstown, Kentucky, talks about the safety of our food grown with tools like biotechnology and pesticides. Ashley and her husband, Aaron, grow corn, soybeans and winter wheat on their family farm. To find out more about Ashley and her family farm, click here.
- How can I be sure my meat is safe to eat?
- According to the American Meat Institute (AMI), all raw agricultural products contain bacteria, but, during processing, the meat and poultry industry seeks to reduce these levels as much as possible and then urges careful handling and thorough cooking to ensure that no harmful bacteria remain when food is served.
- Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented with proper processing, handling and cooking of food to destroy bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Check out USDA’s recommended cooking temperatures for meat at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/is_it_done_yet/.
- CDC suggests consumers can reduce their risk of foodborne illness, such as E.coli, by avoiding consumption of raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as eggs, ground beef and poultry; unpasteurized milk; and raw or undercooked oysters. Risk also can be decreased by choosing pasteurized milk and eggs, high-pressure-treated oysters and irradiated food products. Everyone should also wash hands after contact with animals and their environments.
- The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.
- Is my food safer or less safe than it used to be?
- The FoodNet 2010 report shows a downward trend in foodborne infections. FoodNet is America’s report card for food safety that tracks foodborne illness trends for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), its partners and policy makers.
- Although the report confirms that Salmonella infection has not declined in 15 years, it also shows that progress has been made in reducing several foodborne infections. As a group, infections caused by six key pathogens in 2010 were 23 percent lower compared with 1996-1998 rates.
- The CDC report also shows recent successes in fighting a strain of E. coli. The rate of infection with this dangerous kind of E. coli significantly decreased in 2009, reaching the lowest level since 2004.
- AMI information reviewed by the American Meat Science Association states: “The presence of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh ground beef declined by 63 percent between 2000 and 2009 to approximately one third of 1 percent of ground beef samples tested. That means that the pathogen will only be found in approximately one in 300 samples. Salmonella on fresh pork has declined by 63 percent since 2000 while Salmonella on chicken has declined by 21 percent since 2000. An environmental pathogen called Listeria monocytogenes, which can contaminate a range of protein foods, has also declined markedly on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. Between 2000 and 2009, L. monocytogenes declined 74 percent and now is found in less than one half of 1 percent of samples tested.” For more information, visit www.meatmythcrushers.com or www.meatscience.org.
- AMI says all of these declines have occurred just as efforts to find harmful bacteria have increased and as the ability to find them has improved dramatically through better diagnostic technologies. Notably, these declines have occurred as public health tracking of these infections has expanded significantly. For example, AMI says in 1993 almost no state tracked E. coli O157:H7 infections in people. Today, every state in the U.S. routinely monitors the incidence of these infections and reports to federal officials.
- Is organic food safer than non-organic?
- All foods – whether organic or non-organic – must meet certain federal and, sometimes, state regulations before being sold to consumers. Several U.S. government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), monitor the food production chain through regulations and inspections from the farm to your table.
- Any food, whether organic or conventional, could become unsafe with illness-causing foodborne bacteria at any point in the chain from the farm to the table, according to information from USDA, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and the Ad Council’s Food Safe Families program. Follow USDA and FDA’s recommendations to clean, separate, cook and chill food at www.fightbac.org.
- Should I be concerned about the safety of chemicals on my produce and meat?
- The FDA says washing fresh produce before eating is a healthful habit. You can reduce and often eliminate residues if they are present on fresh fruits and vegetables by following FDA’s simple tips:
- Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm tap water, and scrub with a brush when appropriate; do not use soap.
- Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
- Trim the fat from meat, and the fat and skin from poultry and fish. Residues of some pesticides concentrate in animal fat.
- It’s important to note that the FDA says supermarkets, as a rule, don’t wash produce before putting it out, but many stores mist it while it’s on display. The agency says misting keeps the produce from drying, but surface residues drain off also, in much the same way as from a light wash under the kitchen faucet.
- A 1990 report in the EPA Journal by three chemists from the agency summarized four studies of fresh tomatoes treated with a fungicide, which were tested at harvest, at the packinghouse and at point of sale to the consumer. The studies showed that more than 99 percent of the residues were washed off at the packinghouse by the food processor.
Note: CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.