FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Keeping up on food safety
and nutrition can be confusing: One day a food is reported as good
for you, and the next a study finds that it's not so healthy after
all. It also can be frightening when a foodborne illness outbreak
But eating isn't optional. So, food safety and nutrition experts
offer their best advice on what you need to know to eat healthily
1. Rely on thermometers.
If there's one message Tina Hanes, a registered dietician and
nurse with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and
Inspection Service, wants you to remember, it's to check the
temperature of your foods with a thermometer.
"Color and texture aren't reliable indicators of how safe a food is," said Hanes. "You have to use a food thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to a safe temperature." For whole cuts of beef, pork or lamb, that means cooking them to a minimum of 145 degrees F and letting them rest for three minutes when they come out of the oven. All poultry, including ground poultry, should be cooked to 165 degrees F. Ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees F.
The best way to take the temperature of such foods as hamburger
or chicken breast is to go in through the side to the thickest part
of the meat. Hanes suggests using oven-safe thermometers or
instant-read thermometers designed for meat.
2. Carbohydrates and gluten may not be your enemy.
For some time, dieters have been shunning carbohydrates, and the
latest food craze appears to be forgoing gluten, a protein found in
wheat. People with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that
affects a person's ability to process gluten safely, definitely
need to avoid gluten. But, according to Amy Frasieur, a registered
dietitian with Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., there's no
evidence that people who do not have celiac disease or a gluten
sensitivity will benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Along the same vein, dieters who've been trying to stay away
from carbohydrates should make sure they're not missing out on
vital nutrients. "Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy
for the human body," Frasieur said. "Many carbohydrate foods
provide us with essential nutrients. Refined carbohydrates such as
sugars, candy and processed grains can be very low in nutrients,
but other carbohydrates can be exceptionally good for the body,
such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains like quinoa, brown rice
3. Leave it.
You might have heard of the "five-second rule." Some people say
that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up quickly -- within
five seconds -- it's still safe to eat.
Not so, said Frasieur. "Bacteria can adhere to food immediately
upon contact," she said. Thus, from a food safety standpoint, the
five-second rule is a myth.
4. Keep it separate.
You also may have heard that you should keep raw meat and
produce separate, and that it's a good idea to have separate
cutting boards for each. But have you ever thought about the things
that might be contaminating your countertops and tables?
"In my house, nothing goes on the counter -- no purses, no school bags," said Cheryl Luptowski, a public information officer with NSF International, a nonprofit safety organization. "It's just not a good idea to put anything that was sitting on a floor somewhere on your counter or kitchen table."
She also said people who use reusable bags should make sure they
have separate bags for groceries and other items. And, she said,
all grocery bags should be washable.
5. Ponder produce selections.
Are organic foods worth the extra cost? Frasier said that
results from studies on the nutritional content of organic produce
have been mixed, so it's not clear if they provide any extra
nutritional benefit. However, these foods do provide a clear
benefit for reducing exposure to pesticides and additives in your
And, whether organically grown or not, have you ever wondered if
it's really safe to eat prepackaged salads, baby carrots and more?
Hanes said that if the products are labeled as "ready to eat" or
"prewashed," they should be safe to eat right out of the bag.
6. Watch the time.
When you're out shopping, keep an eye on how long you let
perishable foods sit in your car. During the winter, when
temperatures are below 40 degrees F, you have considerable leeway,
Luptowski noted. But on hot summer days, you have less than an hour
to get your food home.
Hanes recommends putting a cooler in the car if you know you're
going to be out for a bit. Better yet, both experts said, make the
grocery store your last stop and pick up perishable foods at the
end of your shopping trip.
If you lose your power, food in the fridge (if it's been closed)
will generally stay safe for about four hours. How long food in the
freezer lasts depends on how full your freezer is. In a half-full
freezer, food will stay frozen for about 24 hours, Hanes said, but
in a full freezer, it might stay frozen up to 48 hours.
7. Skip the energy buzz.
Energy drinks often contain large doses of caffeine and other
stimulants, but these products aren't regulated by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration. "Mega doses of caffeine from any source
can have harmful side effects," said Frasieur. "Also, little
research has been done to show the impacts of combining caffeine
with other stimulant ingredients included in many energy
Children, pregnant women and anyone with high blood pressure or
heart disease should avoid these drinks, she said.
"Consumers should consider why they are low in energy and using energy drinks in the first place," Frasieur said. "A balanced diet, regular exercise, stress reduction and adequate sleep should reduce the need for energy drink consumption."
8. Clean it.
Many people use their kitchen sponges for a variety of tasks,
which often makes the kitchen sponge the germiest thing in a
kitchen, said Luptowski. But, she said, "you can prolong the life
of your sponge by wetting it, and then microwaving it for two
minutes to kill the germs."
She also recommends having separate sponges for human dishes and
dog bowls because, contrary to popular belief, Fido's mouth just
isn't very clean.
If you've prepared food that could potentially harbor bacteria,
such as raw meat, Luptowski suggested running your dishwasher on
the sanitizing cycle. The cycle takes longer and uses more energy,
but it ensures that any pathogens are killed. Those who don't have
a dishwasher, she said, can sanitize dishes by washing them in hot,
soapy water, then dunking them in a gallon of hot water with a
capful of bleach in it and then rinsing the dishes.
The U.S. government website FoodSafety.gov has more on
To read about one reporter's near-fatal bout of food poisoning,
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