Food Safety

November 30, 2010

Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:

  • older adults
  • infants and young children
  • pregnant women
  • people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune systems
  • people who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants in our food supply is a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration. But consumers have a role to play, too, especially when it comes to safe food handling practices in the home.

“The good news is that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness,” says Marjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at FDA.

In its Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, the Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends:

  • Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
  • Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it’s placed in the oven.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using.
  • The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
  • Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers more information on stuffing safety at its Turkey Basics Web page.

Be it in airports, court buildings, or other venues, Americans are increasingly encountering full-body imaging systems, the new wave in electronic security screening.

General-use X-ray security screening systems represent one of two full-body scanning technologies currently being put into widespread use to check people for concealed weapons, explosives, or other contraband without having to make physical contact.

Extensive use of full-body scanning technologies, including the general-use X-ray systems, is a relatively new development. Thus it’s natural for people to have questions—including questions about whether these systems pose any health risks.

Very small amounts of X-ray

General-use X-ray security systems found in U.S. airports are also called “backscatter” systems. They use very small amounts of X-ray that are “bounced” off the person being screened. The reflected energy is received by an array of sensitive detectors and then processed by a computer to form an image.

Full-body scanners are large in size, and require individuals to step into the machine and remain still for a few seconds while the scan takes place.

FDA scientist Abiy Desta says, “Millimeter wave security systems that comply with the limits set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the applicable non-ionizing radiation safety standard cause no known adverse health effects.”

Metal Detectors

Meanwhile, people need to be aware that metal detectors are still being used for security screening at many facilities.

Metal detectors, which can be walk-thru portals or hand-held wands, have the potential to affect the function of certain medical devices such as implanted cardiac pacemakers, implantable cardioverter/defibrillators, and spinal cord nerve stimulators.

If scanning with a hand-held metal detector is necessary, warn the security personnel that you have an electronic medical device and ask them not to hold the metal detector near the device longer than necessary. You may also ask for an alternate form of personal search.

Child Obesity

November 2, 2010

With childhood obesity on the rise, parents, schools—even whole communities—are getting behind the movement to help young people eat healthier. Remember, healthy eating at home and school begins at the grocery store. Look at Nutrition Facts label for information about calories and percentage of a day’s worth of nutrients in one serving and lists of ingredients that went into the product.

Ingredients in prepared foods are listed in descending order of predominance. If the cereal your kids like has some type of grain listed first, that’s a good sign. But if fructose, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose—in other words, sugar—is listed first, you’d best leave that item on the store shelf because added sugars are taking the place of other, more nutritious ingredients.

And sugar isn’t always an additive. Some foods—fruits, for example—are naturally sweet without adding any sugar at all. If you check the Nutrition Facts label on canned or dried fruits that have no added sugar, you’ll still see sugars listed. That’s because the sugars in pineapple, raisins, prunes, and other fruits occur naturally.

Try to get 20 percent or more of protein, fiber, and some essential vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C and calcium) in a single serving; but limit your intake of saturated fats and sodium to 5 percent or less per serving of food. Strive for 0 trans fat, or trans fatty acids—this harmful fat raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL).

Winter Illness Season

November 1, 2010

OK, it’s now time for colds, influenza (flu), and other respiratory illnesses. Moreover we become more vulnerable to contagious viruses. What can we do to take care of our body and help it fight winter illnesses?

Colds and Flu

Most respiratory bugs come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. However, some cause serious health problems. Although symptoms of colds and flu can be similar, the two are different.

Colds are usually distinguished by a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. No vaccine against colds exists because they can be caused by many types of viruses. Often spread through contact with mucus, colds come on gradually.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and general misery. Like colds, flu can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with flu.

Flu vaccine

Flu vaccine, available as a shot or a nasal spray, remains the best way to prevent and control influenza. The best time to get a flu vaccination is from October through November, although getting it in December and January is not too late. A new flu shot is needed every year because the predominant flu viruses may change every year.

All people 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated. However, you should talk to your health care professional before getting vaccinated!

Prevent and Treat Flu

Wash your hands often. Teach children to do the same. Both colds and flu can be passed through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces, including the hands.

CDC recommends regular washing of your hands with warm, soapy water for about 15 seconds.

FDA says that while soap and water are undoubtedly the first choice for hand hygiene, alcohol-based hand rubs may be used if soap and water are not available. However, the agency cautions against using the alcohol-based rubs when hands are visibly dirty. This is because organic material such as dirt or blood can inactivate the alcohol, rendering it unable to kill bacteria.

See a health care professional if you aren’t getting any better or if your symptoms worsen. Mucus buildup from a viral infection can lead to a bacterial infection.

With children, be alert for high fevers and for abnormal behavior such as unusual drowsiness, refusal to eat, crying a lot, holding the ears or stomach, and wheezing.