Sunday, February 17, 2008

Viruses, Parasites, Bacteria, Oh My!

Friday night’s class was all about things you don't want to think food that is improperly handled can make you sick. As a professional food handler in the city of New York one must be licensed and pass a ServSafe program. The class discussion was all about – viruses, parasites, and bacteria and our Chef instructor informed us of all the things we need to know to pass the ServSafe exam.

We discussed Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, E. coli, and everyone’s favorite Staphylococcus aureus! I know they sound like characters in an ancient Greek or Roman play. Unfortunately, we all need to become familiar with these types of bacteria – because they exist everywhere.

The rise of E coli. incidents and Salmonella in the news is an alarming realty check with over 300,000 cases of Salmonella reported a year and let’s not forget the endless stories of cruise ship sickness – Norwalk virus also know as Noroviruses.

The question is why are there so many more incidents of food borne illnesses and outbreaks of contaminated food – do I have to remind you on the E. coli spinach a few years ago?

Well there are a few factors that I’ll go into briefly since I found them fascinating.

1. Emerging pathogens – microorganisms that have a disease producing effect on the body.

2. The increase in susceptible populations – here we are talking about the elderly, the immunosuppressed and kids – people with compromised and weak immune systems. They can’t handle the bacteria and viruses most people can easily fight off.

3. Increase and ease of global trade – do you ever really think about where your food actually comes from? That Lean Cuisine you are eating probably has ingredients from X amount of processing plants and has been touched by X amount of food handlers. I know – scary.

4. Over-use of antibiotics – you know your doctor doesn’t want to give you a prescription for an antibiotic unless you are in dire need. There’s a reason for this – the food we eat – think chicken here – has been fed antibiotics for years and years. Chickens eat feed with antibiotics and then we eat the chickens – down the line we become resistant to those helpful antibiotics.

5. More money is being spent on dining out then on dining in. So there you have it – we eat out more often so we are susceptible to more food borne illnesses at the hands of others.

Key points here:

Always keep cold food cold and hot food hot.

Cook foods to the proper temperature to kill existing bacteria in your food.

It’s a minimum of 145 degrees for meat, pork, fish and eggs – use a thermometer.

For ground beef, fish or pork the minimum temperature should be 155 degrees when tested with a trusty thermometer.

Poultry – 165 degrees to make sure all those nasty bacteria are killed.

One last point to remember – making large portions? You have two hours to chill that down to below 70 degrees then another 4 hours in the fridge to get it down to 41 degrees to ensure it is safe from being the playground for bacterial growth. Never, ever put large portions of heated food in the fridge without cooling it down first. Ice baths work quite nicely for this purpose.

A perfect example of what's going on in the food processing industry.;_ylt=AhWMqjT_lmRGI8zc0AoeC7is0NUE


marc said...

Great suggestions Anthony! May I suggest one other! Try to insure your meats and poultry are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Just because the sign or packaging says all natural does not make it so. More and more producers including perdue now are stating on there packages, no hormoes or antibiotics used! Don't fear asking your butcher or meat department manager questions. The tide is turning on this issue, it is up to us to keep it flowing!

Christine said...

You should talk to me about this someday, I am terrified of bacterial growth in food. I hate going to parties where all the food is sitting out for hours, just filling up with microscopic nasties!! Maybe it's because I somehow contracted a tropical intestinal parasite as a teenager (though I'd never been anywhere tropical yet)...