Leery shoppers weigh safety

by M

Source of Article:  http://www.mlive.com/saginawnews/living/index.ssf/2008/07/leery_shoppers_weigh_safety.html

By Mary L. Lawrence | The Saginaw News

Wednesday July 30, 2008

Wednesday July 30, 2008, 10:11 AM

The recent contamination scare has some people asking where their food comes from.

It's safe to eat tomatoes, but don't touch those hot peppers.

The Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers to put hot peppers on the "don't eat" list, just as the record outbreak of salmonella linked to tomatoes was finally slowing.

Food inspectors still haven't found the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul on any farms in suspect areas of south Florida and parts of Mexico, where they've managed to trace tomatoes eaten by consumers.

As the outbreak continued, more evidence emerged against fresh jalapenos. Fresh cilantro also is still under suspicion.

"We didn't buy any tomatoes that first week (of the scare)," recalls Sharon Sanders, a 60-year-old retiree who lives in Bridgeport Township with her husband, Jimmy. "I didn't even know about it until I was at a McDonald's and they didn't have any tomatoes. We stayed away from them until we heard it was OK."

Sanders said she is careful to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables.

"As for the hot peppers, I don't eat them anyway," she said.

Debbie Campbell, 55, of Saginaw Township practices optimistic caution when it comes to the nation's food supply.

"I pay attention to the warnings about different foods, but I don't stop living my life," said Campbell, who is the assistant accounting manager at the Saginaw YMCA.
"For a short time we didn't eat tomatoes. Then we just watched where they came from. One of my friends is concerned because she discovered a lot of the foods in some of the discount food stores are from China. That makes you pause and take note."

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds nearly half of consumers have changed their eating and buying habits in the past six months because they're afraid they could get sick by eating contaminated food.

While the poll found that three in four people remain confident about the overall safety of food, 46 percent said they were worried they might get sick from eating contaminated products. The same percentage said that because of safety warnings, they have avoided items they normally would have purchased.

The people most at risk of salmonella -- including the elderly and people with weak immune systems -- should avoid fresh jalapenos and serranos, health officials advise. They also suggest caution when consuming any dish that may contain them, such as fresh salsa.

Investigators still don't know what caused the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened 1,284 people in 43 states -- the earliest falling ill in early April and the latest on July 4. In Michigan, 24 people were ill. No cases of illness were reported to the Saginaw County Department of Public Health.

The end to the tomato ban comes as the tomato industry estimates its losses at more than $100 million. Officials say that doesn't mean tomatoes harvested in the spring are in the clear. It just means those in fields and stores today are safe to eat, said Dr. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's food safety chief.

"We're advising people to purchase produce from known safe sources," said Brigid Richards, a Saginaw County health department, senior environmental health specialist. Her office is at 1600 N. Michigan, Saginaw.

"The availability of that kind of information is probably going to improve," predicts Richards. "It will be driven by consumers. If you can't find the origin of a particular food, you can ask and they (supermarkets) will be able to tell you," she said.

Once produce arrives in home kitchens, proper handling is a must.

"It's very important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot running water before handling fresh produce to avoid cross-contamination," Richards said.
To review safe food handling practices, go to the health department Web site at www.saginawpublichealth.org.

Richards also suggests following health department recommendations for handling and storing food, as well as paying attention to storage temperatures and use-by dates.

"You need to throw out damaged or partially decayed produce. You also should wash, rinse and sanitize sinks, cutting boards, utensils and food prep surfaces after each use," said Richards.


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