CONSUMER CAUTION CORNER

USDA’S Top 10 reasons to handle your food safely

This week, the Office of the Attorney General’s “Consumer Caution Corner” outlines the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Top 10 reasons to handle your food safely.

USDA’S Meat and Poultry Hotline Consumers with food safety questions may call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline weekdays year round with questions on the safe handling of meat and poultry products. The staff is available from 10am to 4pm Eastern Standard Time; recorded messages are available other times.

Consumers may also have their questions answered via chat at www.AskKaren.gov during hotline hours and can get answers electronically 24/7 at this site.

10: Safe food handling practices are the ones most likely to preserve food’s peak quality. Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold inhibits growth of the microorganisms that can spoil your food or make you ill. Storage at the proper temperature also retains the fresh appearance, pleasant aroma, and agreeable texture that contribute so strongly to an enjoyable dining experience.

9: Safe food handling lets you enjoy the nutritional benefits of food. If you have taken the time to carefully select a variety of healthy foods, why not use them up or properly preserve them for long-term storage while nutrient levels are at their peak? Foods that must be discarded due to decay or temperature abuse nourish no one.

8: The safest ways to handle food are usually the most efficient. Do not take chances in the name of saving time. Thawing meat and poultry products at room temperature and partial cooking are examples of practices, which can seem like good ideas, but may actually encourage bacterial growth by keeping food in the “Danger Zone” (40°-140° F.) where bacteria multiply faster. In the case of bacteria that produce heat-resistant toxins, this becomes a problem that further cooking cannot fix.

7: Safe food handling is easy. You set a good example for others, including your children. You are the last person to handle your food before it is eaten. You may be the last person to handle food before it is served to your family or friends. Take charge! Prevention of illness may be as simple as washing your hands an often neglected but VERY important act.

6: Safe food handling inspires confidence and keeps peace in the family.

Imagine: No more family feuds because someone handled dinner in a questionable fashion. In addition, family and friends will not have to call the Meat and Poultry Hotline begging to have food safety literature mailed to your address!

5: Safe food handling can enhance your standing in the community. Food for a concession stand, bake sale, or church supper must be carefully prepared. Many of those in your community are very young, elderly, or suffering from health problems that affect their immune systems. These folks are at increased risk for foodborne illness. Protect their health and the reputation of your organization.

4: Safe food handling is the responsible thing to do. Those for whom you prepare food deserve the best, and you expect no less from those who produce and prepare food for you. You are no less important than the manufacturer, government regulator, or grocer in assuring food safety. You are an important link in the farm-to-table chain.

3: Safe food handling saves money. Foodborne illness costs billions each year in health care costs and lost wages. It is hard to throw away food you know has been mishandled. But compare the cost of the food to the cost of a bad case of food poisoning, starting with the doctor’s bill!

2: By handling food safely, you will spare yourself and your family from a painful bout of illness. Bacterial, parasitic, or viral illnesses caused by food are no fun, and they can have long-term consequences. Should we fear food? No. Microscopic organisms have always been and will always be an important part of our world. But we must store foods properly, cook them thoroughly, and keep our hands and work areas clean. Sometimes, what you cannot see can hurt you. Which brings us to the…

1 REASON TO HANDLE YOUR FOOD SAFELY: It may save a life. Safe food handling really does make a difference. Where do you start? Learn more. USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline can answer your food safety questions. Just call 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) toll-free nationwide.

Each week, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Education Program (a.k.a. “The Consumer Caution Corner”) shares Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, or USDA publications to promote education and awareness among the community while also enabling consumers and businesses with the “know-how” to identify and protect themselves from unfair and deceptive trade practices and other marketplace schemes.

If you would like to file a consumer complaint, please pick up a form at the OAG (on Capital Hill) or request a form by email from consumer_counsel@cnmioag.org. After completing the consumer complaint form, please submit it by email or in-person.

We cannot act as your private attorney. If you need legal assistance, we will recommend that you contact a private attorney or legal aid organization.

We cannot give legal advice or act as your private attorney.

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Michael J. Cyganek (Special to the Saipan Tribune Author

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