What We Don't Know About Handling Food Can Hurt Us


A healthy adult is less likely to contract a foodborne illness than a young child or an aging grandparent. And a pregnant woman, her fetus, and people battling disease are especially sensitive to illnesses that can be transmitted by food. Those in these categories who are unaware of their risks are a potentially serious consequence for the nations health, according to experts at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting.


Scientists refer to the people in these groups as YOPIthe very young, the very old, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems from HIV, diabetes, and other conditions. Their natural internal defenses against foodborne illness are not as well armed as a health adult.


Many common food-safety practicessuch as avoiding alfalfa sprouts and heating deli meat before eating itare among the official government recommendations for the YPOI. But People just dont know these recommendations exist, said Joyce Gordon, a professor at Kansas State University.


Gordon also found that the location where the buy food, such as a farmers market vs. a retail store, can make them discount common safety practices in handling and cooking food.


Gerd Bobe, with the National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, cited the way food-safety messages are expressed is critical after conducting a survey of Michigan consumers who had bought refrigerated juice in the past year.


He found that 72 percent of those surveyed correctly identified that pasteurized juice will have less risk of pathogens. However, he reported that barely more than half realize that unpasteurized juice may have more risk of pathogens.


Many people thought that unpasteurized means organic or natural, he said. It does not.


Bobe recommends that proper food handling be taught as early as kindergarten and future food safety information be quantitative to help identify the relative risk of, say, a senior eating cold deli meat. However, other panelists noted that such specific statements of risks can be difficult to determine.


Another survey found that older Americans confidence is the food supply, could lead to complacency thats risky when handling food is concerned.


The older you get, the less likely you are to think foodborn illnesses common, interpreted Toby Ten Eyck, a sociologist at Michigan State University. People think, Ive eaten a lot of meals (over time) and Im okay.


Food scientists urge consumers to practice the four Fight BAC! principals:


CleanWash hands and surfaces, and rinse fresh produce

SeparateKeep meat, seafood and poultry separate from other foods

CookUse a thermometer to ensure food is fully cooked

ChillStore foods below 40 degrees


For more on the principals of fighting bacteria in food, see www.FightBAC.org.


Source: Institute of Food Technologists


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