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PHOTO COURTSEY OF: USDA
The USDA’s Discovery
Zone, a traveling
exhibit, visits schools
and fairs to promote
YOU CAN’T SEE, smell or taste harmful bacteria on food that may cause illness. The USDA
recommends these steps to keep fresh foods
safe between the store and the table.
Shopping. Purchase refrigerated or frozen
items at the end of your shopping trip.
Storage. Refrigerate perishable
food within two hours—and sooner
on very hot days.
Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish,
ground meats and variety meats
within two days; other beef, veal,
Perishables such as meat and poultry
should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting
onto other food.
When freezing meat and poultry in the
original package, wrap the package again with
foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for
Preparation. Always wash your
hands with warm water and soap
for 20 seconds before and after
Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and
their juices away from other food.
After cutting raw meats, wash the cutting
board, utensils and countertops with hot,
Marinate meat and poultry in a covered
dish in the refrigerator.
Cooking. Cook all raw beef, pork,
lamb and veal steaks, chops and
roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F as measured with
a food thermometer before removing the meat from the oven or grill.
For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at
least three minutes before carving or eating.
For ground meats, cook all raw beef, pork,
lamb and veal to an internal temperature of
160 F according to a food thermometer.
Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of
165 F according to a food thermometer.
Leftovers. Discard any food left
out at room temperature for more
than two hours—one hour if the
temperature was above 90 F.
Use cooked leftovers within four
days. Reheat leftovers to 165 F.
Other helpful resources
www.usda.gov (click on “Food Safety”)
www.askkaren.gov; App: Ask Karen
• Twitter: @USDAFoodSafety
based. But your agency is pushing for science-based inspections, as modeled through a test
program known as HIMP (HACCP-based
Inspection Model Project; HACCP stands for
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points),
now being used in a select number of chicken,
pork and turkey plants. Explain that program.
USDA: HIMP basically changes the format for inspection. There’s still an inspector
inspecting every single chicken, but there’s also
an offline inspector who is performing food-safety tasks, such as sampling, and ensuring
plants are following food-safety plans that
involve a science-based type of inspection for
salmonella and campylobacter.
CC: What has the test program found in
USDA: Overall, it has resulted in lower
levels of salmonella. That’s not to say that it’s
been perfect. There have been some plants that
have gone up a bit, but overall in the past 12
years the plants in the program have performed
significantly better than the rest of the plants.
CC: What is preventing this pilot program from expanding industry-wide?
USDA: By a memorandum of understanding with the inspectors’ union, we are
limited in the numbers of plants that we can
involve until we can accumulate more data
and then do rule making to expand the program. We feel that the data that we have collected establish the effectiveness of the
program, and thus in January 2012 we proposed sweeping changes in inspection procedures, called the new Poultry Slaughter
Final action on that proposal is working its
way through the regulatory process. Any modernization effort, regardless of the industry, is
not going to be politically convenient, and we
certainly see it here. So it’s incumbent upon us
to outline the benefits of the rules. A risk
assessment shows that this new inspection system would prevent at least 5,000 illnesses per
year. That’s a significant number.
CC: What role and responsibility does the
producer have in ensuring poultry is safe?
USDA: Everybody has a role in food
safety. On the farm, raising animals in a
responsible way can reduce pathogens. In
slaughter facilities, suppliers must act
responsibly to reduce or eliminate the presence of pathogens. There are a number of
steps within an establishment to reduce and
eliminate pathogens, such as washing the
poultry with different antimicrobials before
they enter the food chain.
We consider food safety a team effort. It’s
up to the industry to produce a safe product
to protect their brand. It’s up to us regulators
to verify that the industry is producing a safe
product. It’s up to consumers to hold us
accountable for the work that we do. And
consumers can also take steps at home to
reduce their risk of food-borne illness.
CC: We still hear a lot about salmonella
in the news. Some groups are calling for it to
be declared an adulterant, which would subject salmonella-tainted foods to recalls and
other actions. Why not do this?
USDA: There are numerous obstacles
that would have to be overcome before salmonella could be declared an adulterant. The
courts have made it clear that under the statute, since ordinary cooking would eliminate
salmonella, this pathogen is not an adulterant.
Congress would need to change the law.
Despite these barriers, we have tools at
our disposal within our existing authority to
combat this problem. For example, we can ask
a plant to do a recall or issue a public health
alert. Also, we’ve taken several creative steps
in recent years, such as forming a strategic
performance group, to examine ways in the
field and at headquarters to most effectively
combat this pathogen. But our proposed new
poultry slaughter rule would be the biggest
tool for us in further reducing these illnesses.
CC: Are there new measures to keep
reducing problems with E. coli?
USDA: We were successful in declaring six additional strains of E. coli to be
adulterants, which has helped make food
safer. Our strategic performance group is
safe at home