Safe Food Handling Optimizes Family Nutrition
Andress, Elizabeth L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences
The health implications for food and nutrition are well accepted and recognized. Safe food handling is also part of the nutrition and health continuum. Recent surveys point out the sometimes significant gaps between consumer practices and recommended behaviors for minimizing risks. In addition, changes in the food-borne pathogen population, lifestyle trends, the global marketplace, and new vehicles of transmission for food-borne diseases are creating challenges to our traditional practices and knowledge of food handling. Opportunities for the family and consumer sciences profession to make a difference in preventing disease are abundant.
SAFE FOOD HANDLING OPTIMIZES FAMILY NUTRITION
Nutritional content of a food is of no value if the food is not handled properly. Knowledge of food composition and factors influencing food safety has never been greater in our society. Yet, choices about our food and diets remain closely tied to tradition, personal preferences, values, and marketing persuasions. Consumers are making their concerns and interests in food safety known, yet research finds that many Americans today still lack knowledge about basic sanitation and prevention of foodborne illness (Altekruse, Street, Fein, & Levy, 1996; Institute of Food Technologists' Expert Panel, 1995; Klontz, Timbo, Fein, & Levy, 1995; The Partnership for Food Safety Education, 1997; Williamson, Gravani, & Lawless, 1992).
Several studies point to the common, but hazardous, mistakes of improperly cooling foods, poor hand-washing practices, and cross-contaminating practices with raw meat and poultry products. Williamson et al. (1992) found that 29% of consumers would let a roasted chicken breast sit on the counter until it reached room temperature before refrigerating it. Only 32% in their sample would use a shallow container to store leftover stew; 14% would store it in the cooking pot, and 54% would use a deep container. Altekruse et al. (1996) reported the results of a national telephone survey of over 1,600 Englishspeaking households for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One third of meal preparers reported unsafe sanitation practices such as failure to wash hands or take precautions to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat.
In this FDA survey, some indication is found that awareness and knowledge influences safe food handling. Respondents who could identify a food vehicle for Salmonella were more likely to report washing hands and cleaning cutting boards after preparing raw meat and poultry. However, one fourth of all respondents reported they would not clean a cutting board after cutting raw meat or chicken before using it again. The percent of food preparers who do not know they should wash cutting boards with soap and water between fresh meat and fresh vegetables has been higher in another survey (Williamson et al., 1992).
Other risky practices continue to be prevalent in our society. In the FDA survey, respondents also reported eating raw animal food products, such as raw eggs (53%), undercooked hamburgers (23%), raw clams or oysters (17%), and raw sushi or ceviche (8%) (lontz et al., 1995). Responses to food-safety questions asked by Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems (BRFSS) surveys (1995, 1996) in selected states also revealed eating of undercooked eggs (50%) and hamburgers (19.7%) (Yang et al., 1998). Almost 19% did not wash hands after handling raw meat or chicken. There were gender, age, and race differences for some practices. The Food Marketing Institute (1998) has also reported gender differences in food safety practices.
Despite heavy media coverage of foodsafety issues and advice in the past few years, the knowledge gap about recommended practices may still be a great barrier to decreasing the incidence of disease. Recent public opinion polls indicate that Americans may be unaware of the hazards in their practices and ma underestimate the potential for food-borne illness from home practices. A survey of 1,285 adult Americans by International Communications Research in July 1997 found that 88% believe they are taking necessary precautionary steps. However, in addition to the types of behaviors reported above, the FDA reported in 1998 that only 47% of consumers own a food thermometer, and even fewer use them regularly for roasts (22%) and chicken (6%) (The Partnership for Food Safety Education, 1999).
Implications of the need to close the gap between our scientific community's knowledge base and consumer practices in safe food handling and personal hygiene are great. More people are working in food service situations and more people are eating food prepared away from home than ever (National Restaurant Association, 1998).
Other trends influence food safety and behaviors with implications for family and individual health. Whereas substantial progress is being made in preventing foodborne disease from production through processing stages in the food chain, the population of microorganisms is adapting and mutating to offer new challenges. Harmful strains of bacteria once thought innocuous are being discovered, as the last 15 years of history with E. coli 0157: H7 have taught us. Cyclospora cayetanensis received its current designation as an organism in 1992 and emerged as a food-borne pathogen in 1996. Other known pathogens are just recently becoming known as predominantly food borne. Many newly identified pathogens are undetectable in foods by look, smell, or taste, and many survive traditional preparation techniques (Tauxe, 1997). As control methods are discovered for these pathogens, that information will need to be taught to the population, and it may even challenge traditional advice about food handing.
New pathogens are one issue influencing evolving food-handling advice; new associations of pathogens with foods are also challenging traditional thought. Hundreds of years of advice about eggs has been found to be no longer safe within the past two decades. An increasing proportion of food-borne illnesses is being linked to fresh produce from the United States as well as other countries. In some cases, fresh fruits and juices are now contaminated with pathogens once thought to be limited to animal foods or water supplies. Food manufacturing processes and regulations are changing quickly to accommodate this new knowledge; consumer behavior and acceptance of newer advice need to accompany these changes.
Decreasing family size, increasing numbers of single heads of households, and increasing numbers of working women are changing the time devoted to food shopping and food preparation, as well as the family members doing these tasks (Collins, 1997) . Many children are preparing foods for themselves or doing the food shopping. Convenience foods and quicker methods of preparation are the norm. New food products are being developed to fill these demands, and these products may require different standards of food selection, storage, and preparation to maintain safety Many new convenience foods offer the benefits of precooking or partial cooking, precutting and assembly of mixed ingredients, and characteristics of fresh-like foods. These foods often have minimal barriers to microbiological growth, and strict adherence to temperature control and dates is essential for safety. This adherence may be at odds with consumer desires to pay less attention to their food preparation.
The increasing cultural diversity in American society presents yet additional challenges to addressing traditional as well as new food-handling practices. Educators attempting to change behavior have to learn the nature of tradition from other cultures before approaching new advice. The interrelationships between food practices, values, religion, self-esteem, family roles, and other sociocultural understandings cannot be assumed and may require learning new strategies for education and influencing behavior.
Our society's demand for exotic cuisines and the availability of global food markets also are creating new challenges to food safety. Ingredients from many countries being combined in meals and sometimes dishes makes it difficult to trace contamination sources. Outbreaks are often more diffuse and widespread, even around the globe, than they used to be.
Other trends could be cited that provide emphasis to the need for food-handling education within the family setting. The relationships among food and chronic as well as acute diseases, the increase in numbers of people susceptible to food-borne disease, and challenges our society is facing in controlling infectious diseases are all reasons why food safety is a family health issue. Family and consumer sciences professionals have the opportunity to provide sound food-safety education as well as the responsibility to keep updated in recommendations and their underlying science. New technologies are available to improve the safety of our food as well as increase its variety; however, consumer distrust of these technologies is a barrier to overcome (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 1995). Family members are taking practices learned while looking after their own needs into employment situations that will affect the health of many others. The food industry and regulatory communities are constantly making improvements to increase the safety of our food supply. Consumers must also fulfill their responsibilities to assure a safe food supply.
FIGHT RAC! (TM)
The Partnership for Food Safety Education is a coalition of industry, government, and consumer groups founded as a result of the president's Food Safety Initiative. The purpose of the Partnership is to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness by educating Americans about safe food-handling practices. In October 1997, the Fight BAC.(TM) campaign was launched. This national public awareness campaign uses various channels of information dissemination to spread the word about four critical controls in fighting food-borne illness. The campaign messages are
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
Separate: Don't cross-contaminate.
Cook: Cook to proper temperatures.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
Consumer publications, community awareness kits, and educator kits have been assembled and distributed, with more activities still being planned. The campaign is looking for more BAC fighters. Family and consumers sciences plays an essential role in this kind of health education program, both for consumers and students. More information about the campaign and the Partnership may be found at
(Fight BAC!TM is a registered trademark of the Partnership for Food Safety Education.)
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ELIZABETH L. ANDRESS, PH.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Foods and Nutrition The University of Georgia…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Safe Food Handling Optimizes Family Nutrition. Contributors: Andress, Elizabeth L. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. Volume: 91. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1, 1999. Page number: 40+. © American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences Apr 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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