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Some Like It Hot, Some Like It Cold—Either Way, Here’s How to Keep Home-made School Lunches Safe and Tasty

Lunch BoxDiane laughs as she recalls carrying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school every day for some eight years:  “It was the only meal my mother considered safe to consume after being unrefrigerated all morning.” Today, we know that safety doesn’t require such monotony.  However, the challenge remains—how to pack nutritious, delicious meals that will remain uncontaminated even if they spend all morning on a coatroom floor.

 

Perishable foods (those that need to be kept hot or cold) must not be left in what food scientists call the “danger zone” (40°-140°F; 4°-60°C)  for more than two hours. Bacteria and other pathogens that can contaminate foods and cause illness grow rapidly in that temperature range.  Children’s lunches, if left unrefrigerated for about four hours, must contain only shelf-stable items, or parents must learn a few techniques for keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. (These tips will also come in handy when adults prepare their own portable lunches.)

BYOB: It Also Means "Bring your own bag."

grocery bagThe movement to ban those flimsy thow-away plastic grocery bags has recently come to Chicago and one of it's neigboring suberbs, Evanston. I have  mixed feelings about this required change in my bagging habits.

How To Grill Safely

Grilling

Outdoor cooking was once mainly a summer activity, but now more than 50% of Americans say they do it year round.   Still, the number of grillers dramatically increases in the summer.  So does the amount of food-borne illness.  There is probably some connection between cooking and eating outside and contamination of food.  Perhaps the risk is greater for those cooking and eating away from home (picnicking or camping out) because they may not have access to refrigeration and clean, hot water for washing utensils and hands well.  However, even those grilling and dining in their backyards can benefit from tips on how to produce a safe and healthy meal.  In the U.S., outdoor grills are the cause of 19,000 emergency-room visits and 7,900 home fires every year.  

Raw Sprouts: Nutritious and Dangerous

Sprouts

A new sprouts recall  from the FDA arrived in my inbox on August 11, and it reminded me to once again warn visitors to Shelf Life Advice that eating raw sprouts--although they are nutritious and are frequently used to decorate summer sandwiches--are also often contaminated with bacteria that cause food-borne illness.  Let's start with some details about this latest recall and then explain why sprouts are so susceptible to pathogens. Finally, we'll provide some suggestions for how to avoid them.

 

Good Seed Inc. of Springfield, VA is voluntarily recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections to individuals with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

 

Salmonella, another baceria that sometimes thrives in sprouts, can also can cause serious, occasionally fatal, illness.  The usual symptoms are diarrhea, fever, and cramps that begin within 48 hours of infection and last 4-7 days.   Serious cases require hospitalization.  Salmonella is especially dangerous for young children, the elderly, and others with weakened immune systems.

 

To reach a list of the specific products being recalled and other details about the Good Seed recall, go to Good Seed Inc. Recalls Soybean Sprouts and Mung Sprouts Due to A Possible Health Risk.

 

Raw seed sprouts (such as alfalfa and radish sprouts) have long been touted as a health food.  And there are good reasons for this: they’re an excellent source of many essential nutrients including protein, as well as being a popular, tasty addition to salads and sandwiches. However, unfortunately, sprouts are also a very common source of pathogens (especially salmonella and E.coli) and illness.  FoodSafety.gov (a website from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services) says that, since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of food-borne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts.  (Two or more cases of the same food-associated illness is considered an outbreak.)

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