Last month I received an email from someone who was switching to a plant-based diet and was worried about microbes on vegetables and how to keep their family safe. This email came in during our time at Hopkins and I forgot about it until today (sorry about that). The first thing that struck me about this email was that the person appeared unconcerned about cross contamination from meat yet they were worried about contaminated veggies. In the interest of complete disclosure for everyone I thought a post about food safety in regard to pathogens on all food products was in order.
In 2011 the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 128,000 people in the US would be hospitalized due to foodborne illness and of those over 3,000 would die. This is in spite of the fact that the US food supply is one the safest in the world. Rather a disturbing thought isn’t it?
There are many different organisms (bacteria, viruses and parasites) which are capable of causing food borne illness. Most foodborne illness is caused by microorganisms which are present in the intestinal tracts of healthy animals. Meat can be contaminated during slaughter by coming into contact with intestinal contents. Fresh produce (veggies and fruit) runs into trouble when water that is contaminated with animal or human manure is used to irrigate fields. However one big risk happens in the home kitchen is cross contamination. This occurs when raw meat comes into contact with surfaces (reusable grocery bags, cutting boards, countertops, cutlery, refrigerator etc.) which were not sterilized before they are used for produce.
When you read the most recent publication from the CDC it is clear that salmonella is at the top of their list to reduce since it is the greatest cause of hospitalizations and deaths. They are hoping to make as significant a reduction in salmonella as has been seen with E. coli. When you look at where salmonella contamination comes from it is almost exclusively meat and eggs.
Symptoms of salmonella exposure include: fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. People with underlying health conditions and weakened immune systems (old and young) can die from exposure if it enters the bloodstream. However there are things that all of us can do to reduce the risk.
Actionable Steps to Reduce Your Risk:
According to the CDC here is what we can do to reduce our risk of getting sick from salmonella:
· Clean. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.
· Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
· Cook. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry.
· Chill. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F and refrigerate food that will spoil.
· Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.
· Don't prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
· Be especially careful preparing food for children, pregnant women, those in poor health, and older adults.
· Visit FoodSafety.gov
for the latest information on preventing food poisoning.
As you probably noticed reading this list they focus almost exclusively on meat, and for good reason that is where most of the risk is located. However anyone who brings meat into their house needs to be extremely mindful of cross contamination. The FDA warns that contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.
FDA says to choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items—such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices—are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition they suggest these recommendations:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
- Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
- Wash produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
- Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
- Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
- Consumers should store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.
Additionally in my kitchen I also take the following steps:
· Rewash all produce, including triple washed greens, at least once and sometimes twice.
· Scrub all sturdy produce with a vegetable brush with a little castile soap that I am careful to thoroughly rinse off. In this category I include things like melons, winter squash, avocados, citrus, bananas, etc.
· Softer skinned produce is sprayed with veggie wash or white vinegar and allowed to sit for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly. This includes things like grapes, bell peppers, and cucumbers.
· Never wash produce before storing it since that dampness encourages bacteria growth.
· Whenever possible I buy organic produce from farmers who I know. For those of you who are local I know that Calvert Farms is very particular about the source of the water they use to irrigate their fields because of food safety concerns.
You all know that we don’t buy meat so that isn’t in our refrigerator. However if it were I would only store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and in ziptop bags, to avoid meat juices dripping on produce. Additionally I wouldn’t rinse meat in the sink (I read others recommending to wash chicken) because when you do this you are spraying contaminated water onto other surfaces.
Today I just spoke of salmonella because that is causing more problems. However the same precautions apply to other sources of foodborne contamination. The bottom line is that good food handling procedures are critical to keeping your family safe. If you are unclear about what you should be doing please ask and I will continue to write about this until it makes sense. Practicing safe food handling procedures is one of the most important things you can do to keep your family healthy.
Personally I would be much more concerned about food safety if I were bringing meat and eggs into the house. The risk of contamination from produce is much smaller than for meat. However I still take steps to make certain that our produce is as clean as possible. Practicing good food handling procedures is very important if you have anyone in your family with a compromised immune system (the elderly, children, and people with chronic diseases).
I am not a fan of using bleach because it is a carcinogen. However if you are bringing meat into your house you might want to consider a weak bleach solution (1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of water) to sterilize your kitchen. For those of you who eat chicken, you are already ingesting chlorine and might want to read this. I can’t look at chicken without thinking of chlorine now. :-P
I am sure that you noticed that I haven’t put a post up this week. After the month of monster posts I really needed some time off to attempt to get caught up on my backlog of activities which are too numerous to list. It is amazing how many things need to be done around here. On the bright side I am making progress just not as quickly as I would like but that is usually the case.
I had really hoped to share the second website with you yesterday but there was no way that was going to happen no matter how hard I pushed. Darn it! You have no idea how much I dislike missing a deadline. However I am going to keep working on the other site each day. It is starting to shape up and I hope to have it ready to share soon.
One of the biggest things that derailed my progress was that I started reading a marketing book earlier this week that caused me to rethink everything that had finalized including my target market. As you can imagine when you change your target market that ripples through everything else that you do. While I feel very good about the change I made in my target market (since it is now much more in line with who I am) I also have a lot of work to do now which was previously finished. Having to do things twice is my own fault. I knew all along what my target market should be but I didn’t think it was broad enough. However reading this book convinced me that I needed to go with my gut and that means I am now redoing everything. The second time is the charm right? J
While I am on this topic I want to ask for your help. When I get the other site up I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I would like to make the second site something that everyone can benefit from and will use many of the things that I learned while blogging. If you have any specific suggestions now feel free to share. Otherwise I will ask for feedback once the site is ready to share. Wish me luck that I get it finished soon. Dan is going to make certain that I don’t obsess too much and will let me know when it is ready for “public comment.” ;-)
Since a few of you have asked if I am going to keep up with this site too the answer is that it my plan. At the moment I am planning to use this site as my personal journal of sorts (food, recipes, and life activities) and the other site will be focused on health and nutrition but there will also be recipes there too. However I am also sure that things will morph and change over time in ways that I haven’t thought of yet. If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that nothing ever goes as planned and you need to go with the flow.
Thank You for Your Thoughts and Ideas:
You guys had wonderful input regarding my last question about what holds you back from making dietary changes and/or what was the impetuous for you to change. I particularly enjoyed the emails that talked about comfort foods and emotions and that will result in a post at some point since you guys had so many ideas about emotional eating to share.
If you have any other ideas about this in the future please drop me an email. I would love to hear any additional suggestions that you wish to share. I appreciate everything that I have learned for all of you more than you know. As I always say we are stronger together than we are alone. J
Emotionally Rough Week:
When you have been touched by cancer anytime someone else is struggling with the disease it impacts you too. Earlier this week we found out that the sister of a good friend (who has cancer) has been going in and out of a coma and that her end is now near. Her original diagnosis was close to Dan’s and yet that is where the similarity seems to end. Her sister (our friend) tried to get her to make some of the changes that we made but she was stubborn and wouldn’t do it. I still remember one comment she made years ago that “she didn’t have time to do all that, she had a job.” A few months ago (November 2011) she was much more open to making changes but of course by that point it was far too late.
If there is one thing that I could say to all of you it is that life is precious and that you have much more control that you realize. We should all take time every day to appreciate what we have to be thankful for, particularly our family and friends. At the end of life you aren’t going to care about anything other than your relationships. Please don’t make something else more important than it is.
Specifically what I am thinking of are my friends who say that “they can’t possibly eat the way we do.” Seriously guys it is just food and nothing, and I do mean nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels. I know you don’t want to give up your favorite foods, neither did we. However if changing your diet, adding daily exercise, maintaining a health weight, and reducing your stress means an improved quality of life isn’t that more important than what is on your plate? You can do what we did and still be around to spend time with your loved ones or you can give up some of those quality years. The choice is completely up to you. How you treat your body does impact the doubling rate of cancer. No one actually knows how much impact food has but Dan’s health has remained strong and our friend’s sister is going in and out of a coma. Of course you can’t compare two different types of cancer directly and point to lifestyle as the entire reason for the difference. However no one would disagree that when you put healthy food (whole plant-based foods) into your body you are making it stronger. While I believe that health is complicated I also know that how we treat our bodies makes a difference. I often think of the old computer phrase “garbage in garbage out.” When you feed your body healthy foods you are giving it the best chance it has of fighting disease. Please think about that the next time you are making yourself something to eat. What you put in your mouth matters!
While I was waiting for the refills I saw one particularly disturbing scene. A man with three children one in a wheelchair stopped at the outpatient pharmacy (for a prescription I assume) and this man left with an extremely bad attitude. He was using plenty of loud vulgarity (lots of F-bombs) in front of everyone including his children. I assume this was because he didn’t want to wait for the meds. Now I can understand two hours feeling like a long time but increasing your stress and teaching your children bad behavior isn’t going to help the situation. Clearly this guy doesn’t practice meditation but I think he needs to. Stress isn’t good for anyone’s health and I felt very sorry for his child in the wheelchair who had to experience this negativity. This was a good reminder that it does no good to sweat the small stuff. As I watched this scene unfold I wondered to myself if the man had any realization of the stress he was having on his sick child. People can be dense.
I hope that something that I wrote causes you to stop and think about your loved ones, the quality of your life, and whether your habits are good or bad for your health. Remember you really can make a difference in your health it just takes the willingness to change your habits one at a time.
I was very busy this week so I didn’t take time to photograph all of our food. We ate of lot of old favorites like crudités and hummus (you know I love that right?).
There was also soup. This one was in a “cheezy base” that was a thinner version of the cashew queso and included white beans, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and thinly shaved Brussels sprouts that I added right before serving. Dan enjoyed this so you will probably see a recipe for it at some point.
I also made one of my favorites, artichokes and mushrooms in a southern Italian seasoned red sauce over quinoa.
There were also many green smoothies with kale and cocoa.
Like I said at the beginning we had a lot of old favorites nothing really out of the ordinary.
It has been a very good week, and I have many things to be thankful for today which include:
· I just noticed that the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom even though it is early February. Sorry for the picture quality I took this with my cell this morning and couldn’t get it to focus on the flowers. We have had a very mild winter as you can see. Also I am very happy that we went to DC forthe Cherry Blossom festival last spring since I have no idea how it will be this year with our crazy winter, warm, cold, warm and cold weather changes.
· Speaking of crazy weather. Last week it was 71 on Wednesday and snowing on Saturday. I snapped a picture to show you because I found it so odd.
· Also on the bright side the predicted rain and snow mix we were supposed to get earlier this week didn’t amount to much which was very nice. While I love the beauty of a pristine white snow covered landscape I am ready for spring now.
· I love the marketing the book that I started reading earlier this week. Even though I have taken marketing class in both undergrad and grad school this book (not written by a marketing professor) definitely caused me to ask myself some hard questions. I love books that make you think.
· We had a very good medical appointment on Friday which was a follow up to the unplanned January trip to Hopkins. Who wouldn’t a beaming doctor who is saying “you are doing great, don’t change a thing.” Love that!
Saturday we are expecting more frozen precipitation this time in the evening. We are having the strangest winter this year. It just makes no sense how we go from 71 degrees to snow in a matter of days. Hopefully winter is almost behind us now. Personally am looking forward to the start of sailing season.
Do you have any fun planned for this weekend? We are getting together for dinner with our new friend Lauren. I am looking forward to introducing Aimee to Lauren since I think they will enjoy each other they and will be seeing each other this sailing season. Is there anything better than spending time with people who you enjoy being around? Don’t you just love spending time with friends? J
Whatever you are doing I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I will talk with you again soon. Ciao.