- Meat and Poultry
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- Cream and Cream Products
- Eggs and Egg Whites
- Ice Cream
- Dairy Spreads
- Fruit, Fruit Products
- Sauces, Dressing, and Dips
- Condiments, Herbs & Spices, Spreads
- Ingredients for Cooking
- Prepared Foods
- Bakery Goods and Sweets
- Grains, Pasta, and Cereal
- FAQs on Bacteria
- What are bacteria?
- How can I avoid getting sick from a bacterial illness?
- How dangerous is a staph infection?
- Can I assume that if food smells bad its unsafe to eat and if it smells ok that it is safe to eat?
- How dangerous is botulism?
- How dangerous is listeria?
- How many types of bacteria are there?
- What foods are likely to be contaminated by listeria?
- What foods can give a person a staph infection?
- What foods can give a person botulism?
- Why do some bacteria make people sick?
- Why does refrigeration keep bacteria from multiplying?
- Can I avoid all contact with bacteria if I’m careful?
- How Many Bacteria Does It Take to Cause Illness?
- FAQs on Cookware
- Are Ceramic and Enamel Cookware Safe and Practical?
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- Nonstick Cookware: Is it Dangerous?
- What Brands of Cookware are Recommended by Experts?
- What Features Should I Look for When Selecting Cookware?
- What Should I Know about Selecting and Using Aluminum Cookware?
- FAQs about Definitions
- Exactly what is meant by the phrase perishable food?
- Defining Some Current Language about Food
- What Does the Word “Foodie” Mean? It Depends Who(m) You Ask
- What do “sell by,” “best by/before,” “use by” and “expiration” mean?
- What does the term shelf life mean?
- What's in Our Food? Maybe Processing Aids, Maybe not
- “Fresh,” “Natural,” “Processed”—What Do These Words Mean?
- FAQs on Dropped Food
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- Exactly what defines a farmers’ market?
- Farmers' Markets: Why They're So Popular; How to Find One Near Your Home
- How should I handle produce at home?
- What foods are sold with restrictions at a farmers’ market?
- What should I bring to the farmers’ market?
- What shouldn’t I do or eat at a farmers’ market?
- What signs indicate a sanitary farmers’ market?
- What time of day is it best to go to a farmers’ market?
- FAQs on Food-borne Illness and Mishandling of Food
- About how many cases of food-borne illness occur in the U.S. each year?
- Answer Key to “How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?”
- How Much Do You Know about Safe Handling of Food?
- I Left It Out Too Long! Can I Still Eat It?
- Should Your Grocery Card Track Food-Borne Illnesses?
- Sudden, Awful Intestinal Distress--Is it the Flu or a Foodborne Illness--or Both?
- What YOU Can Do to Avoid Food-borne Illness
- What does the phrase food-borne illness refer to?
- FAQs on Food Product Dating
- Are stores required, by law, to remove outdated items from their shelves?
- Do most consumers actually pay attention to the dating on foods?
- Does the “use by” date matter once the product is frozen?
- Is information on food longevity and safety available by phone?
- What are expiration dates?
- What do the terms closed dating and open dating mean?
- What if there is no date on a product, and I don’t remember if I bought it a month ago or ten years ago?
- What should consumers know about food product dating?
- When Did You Buy It? When Did You Open It?
- When to Throw Food Out? Not on the Use-By Date
- Who establishes these product dates?
- Who requires and regulates dating on foods?
- Why do “best by” and “use by” dates sometimes seem conservative?
- FAQs on Food Safety
- "Is It Safe To….?" FAQs Answered by our Advisory Board
- FAQs about Ground Beef, Seasonings, Olive Oil, Lemon Wedges, and Fish
- FAQs about Mushrooms: Are they Very Dirty or Very Clean?
- FAQs about Soft Cheeses--What's Safe, What Isn't
- FAQs on BPA: the attacks continue, but are they justified?
- FAQs on Food Safety and Nutrition
- FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
- FAQs: Cutting Boards and Kitchen Counters--Selection and Care
- Food Bars/Buffets in Supermarkets--Is the food safe? How can you tell?
- Food/Meat Thermometers—What You Need to Know
- How Long Should Cheese Be Aged? Will the Rules Be Changed?
- How Long Will They REALLY Last? Part I: Non-perishables
- How Long Will They REALLY last? Part II: Perishables
- Imported Foods—What’s Safe, What’s Risky?
- Is It Safe? Is It Nutritious? More Survey Answers from Scientists
- Is It Time to Switch to Pasteurized Eggs?
- Is the Food Safety Modernization Act Making Our Food Supply Safer?
- More FAQs about Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures: Pork and Other Perishables
- Sushi: Why Such a Short Shelf Life?
- Winter Food Storage—Can I leave It in the Car or in the Garage?
- Would You—Should You—Do You--Eat Irradiated Food?
- FAQs on Food Wrapping
- Are any plastic wraps or containers really “microwave safe”?
- Are some plastic wraps more effective than others?
- Can I refrigerate meat and poultry in its store wrapping?
- Can I use plastic freezer bags to store produce in the fridge?
- Can chemicals leach unto food from plastic wrap or containers?
- Do coated plastic bags really help produce last longer?
- Does aluminum foil give foods a metallic taste?
- Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?
- Everything You Need to Know about Wrapping Food Right
- How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?
- Is it safe to use aluminum foil in a microwave oven?
- Should I wrap raw vegetables loosely or tightly before refrigerating?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of aluminum foil?
- What produce needs to be wrapped before refrigerating?
- What’s better for wrapping food—plastic or aluminum foil?
- Why does foil sometimes darken, discolor, and leave black specks on food?
- Will a foil cover help keep foods on the table hot or cold?
- FAQs on Freezing Food
- FAQs on Leftovers
- FAQs on Mold
- What is mold?
- Does mold ever grow on nonperishable food?
- Can I remove a moldy part from food and eat the rest?
- About how many different kinds of molds are there?
- How can I avoid getting mold on my refrigerated food?
- Is mold always visible?
- Are any molds harmless?
- What food groups are most susceptible to mold?
- What kinds of illnesses can result from eating moldy food?
- What kind of packaging protects foods from mold?
- What other safety tips will help prevent mold from growing?
- Why are some molds dangerous?
- FAQs on Organic Food
- What Is Organic Food?
- Are Organic Methods More Humane to Animals?
- Does Conventional Food Have a Longer Shelf Life Than Organic?
- Does Organic Food Taste Better than Conventional Food?
- Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional Food?
- Is Organically Grown Food Better for the Environment?
- What Do the Various Organic Labels Mean?
- What Important Contributions Has the Organic Movement Made?
- Which Are Safer: Organic or Conventional Food Products?
- Will Organic Baby Food Make Baby Healthier?
- FAQs on Oxidation: How It Affects Foods
- FAQs about Plastic Products Used with Food
- Pyrex® Glassware: Is it safe to use?
- Are plastic bags safe to use in the microwave?
- Are some plastic wraps safer and/or more effective than others?
- Are there any health risks from reusing plastic water bottles by refilling them with tap water?
- Are we eating chemicals from plastics along with our food?
- Can I microwave food in my plastic containers?
- Does the plastic used in water bottles pose a health risk?
- If I heat food in an open can, will that cause the plastic lining to leach chemicals into the food?
- Is it safe to heat frozen entrées in their plastic containers and with their plastic wrap?
- Is it safe to use plastic wrap as a covering when microwaving food?
- Is it safe to wash and dry plastic plates, cups, containers, and utensils in the dishwasher?
- Is there good evidence that BPA is harmful to human health?
- Of the plastic products used to store, heat, or eat with (wraps, bags, containers, silverware, plates, etc.), which contain BPA?
- What is BPA?
- Why is so much of today’s food packaged in plastic?
- FAQs on Preservatives
- What are Preservatives?
- All things considered, is our food supply safer or less safe because of preservatives?
- Are the preservatives in hot dogs and similar products health risks?
- What preservatives are known to cause allergic reactions?
- What are some common preservatives used in food?
- What food groups commonly have preservatives in them?
- Why are preservatives added to food?
- Will the label on the product tell me if it contains a preservative?
- FAQs on Washing Produce: Why and How
- Other FAQs
- Can chicken soup really cure a cold?
- Is Chocolate Good For You?
- Can Science and Technology Help You Save Food Dollars?
- FAQs Answered By Our Board Scientists: on Chickens, Bananas, Old Salad Dressing, and More
- FAQs about Food Price Increases
- FAQs about Products We Use with Food
- FAQs about Shelf Life: Tortillas, Pancakes, Wine, and More
- Food Fraud: Are you paying for scallops and getting shark meat?
- Is Cheese Addictive? Only If You Eat It
- Missing Chickens: Where Have All the Small Ones Gone?
- Nine FAQs about Food Labels
- Quiz Yourself! Check Your Knowledge about Food Temperatures
- Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety
- Should Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese Be Stored Upside Down?
- Some Shelf Life Info, General and Specific (Spirits, Defrosted Veggies, Green Tea, and More)
- Syrup from a Tree or from a Lab--Which Should You Pour on Your Pancakes?
- Ten FAQs about the Prickly Pineapple
- What's New in Food? IFT Expo Offers Tasty Innovations
- What's on the Menu in Cuba?
- What’s in My Water? Answers to FAQs
- What will you be dining on this year? Here are predictions from folks in the know
- FAQs on Bacteria
- Books: Food for Thought
- Food Safety
- It Says "Use By Tomorrow," But You Don't Have To
- Ten Tips for Consumer Food Safety
- Food Allergies: Recognizing and Controlling Them
- “Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out
- How To Keep Your Cooler Cool
- Recent Recalls: Salmonella Threatens 100s of Products
- STOP! Don’t Rinse That Raw Chicken!
- Sous Vide—A Better Way to Cook?
- Why You Need a Safe Cooking Temperature Chart and How to Get One Right Now
- “Myth-information” about Food Safety: You’d Better Not Believe It
- After The Storm: What You Can Save and What You Must Throw Out
- How to Protect Your Food During a Power Outage
- Meet Your Beef--Via Bar Code Info
- Organic Food, GMOs, the Safety of American Food, the Value of Use-By Dates, and More--Scientists Tell Us What They Think
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- How do summer squash and winter squash differ?
- New Year’s Resolutions For a Safer Kitchen
- Preserve the Taste of Summer by Canning—But Do It Safely
- Summer Food Fests Offer Much More than Calories
- Summer Party Tips: Baby Carrots (Using for Dips) Hot Dogs (Ditching the Guilt), and Watermelon (Finding a Ripe One)
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- A Food App You're Apt to Like; A Brand-New Invention for Getting Shelf-Life Information
- Battling the Ripening of Bananas
- Food Preservation--Low-tech Past, High-Tech Present and Future
- From Purchase to Storage, Tips on Extending Shelf Life
- Pesto: Ingredients, Uses, Shelf Life, Contamination, and More
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FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
We asked two food scientists to answer some FAQs about raw produce, with an emphasis upon melons, apples, and greens. Their answers can help you get produce ripe but not overripe; prevent spoilage and/or contamination; cut down on waste; and, as a result, save money.
Proper handling of produce is also extremely important to protect the health of your family and dinner guests. Many people don’t realize that raw produce is a common cause of food-borne illness. In an August, 2011 article, Consumer Reports points this out: “In a study of more than 100,000 illnesses linked to food between 1990 and 2006, they [fruits and vegetables] caused more problem than poultry and beef combined.” The article also reminds consumers of the following: “While any produce eaten raw can carry bacteria, be particularly careful handling berries, cantaloupe, leafy greens, sprouts, and tomatoes.”
How should I handle whole melons?
Food scientist Karin Allen says, “Whole melons should not be refrigerated. Generally, it is recommended to keep them at 50°F – 60°F, but some studies have shown that watermelon will suffer from chill injury even at 50°F (this is usually seen as pitting and loss of color). However, the warmer your kitchen is, the faster the melons will ripen & spoil.”
After harvest, melons will not become sweeter, Dr. Allen explains, but they will develop a softer texture. In some cases (for example, cantaloupe) this can be desirable, but in others (watermelon) it is not.
She also points out that it’s important to wash the exterior of melons even though we don’t eat the rind. “Pathogenic bacteria may be brought from the surface rind to the interior by the knife blade. When left at room temperature, these bacteria will multiply rapidly, as will spoilage bacteria and mold.”
If I buy half a melon and then discover it’s too hard to eat, how can I ripen it?
You can’t. According to Dr. Allen, “If you purchase a cut melon, it is as ripe as it will ever be.” Once it’s cut, it will not ripen further. Also, a cut melon must be refrigerated to avoid the growth of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria, and fruits don’t ripen further once they’re refrigerated. This information suggests that buying half of a cantaloupe or honeydew melon may not be a good idea. Don’t count on the store to cut them only when they’re ripe enough to enjoy.
After I’ve mistakenly refrigerated whole raw peaches that are still hard, can I put them back on the counter to ripen more?
Dr. LaBorde explains that peaches are cooled after harvest for shipping and storage. They can be taken out of the refrigerator for ripening.
How long can cut-up fruit be left out at room temperature?
Food scientist and produce expert Dr. Luke LaBorde emphatically states, “Two hours.” Then they should be refrigerated. And, he says, when serving these leftovers, “Don’t put them out for two hours again.”
Which fruits and vegetables can be ripened faster by putting them near other fruits or veggies? Which fruits and vegetables aid ripening?
Fruits and vegetables that give off ethylene gas hasten the ripening of some other produce. Those that respond to ethylene will ripen (and some may become moldy) faster in its presence. Dr. Allen has provided us with this link, which contains a 3-page ethylene production/sensitivity chart that answers your questions. Various types of produce (just about anything you’re likely to have in your kitchen) are identified with initials indicating how much ethylene they produce. (For example, VH = very high; VL = very low.) Fruits and veggies that are sensitive to ethylene actions (which are called “responders”) will ripen faster when exposed to ethylene. Some types of produce are both producers and responders.
You can use the information in the chart to your advantage to ripen produce that’s not ripe enough and also prevent produce from getting overripe (by keeping it away from high ethylene producers). Dr. Allen provides the following specific advice based upon the ethylene reaction: “Even at cool temperatures, the spoilage effects of ethylene continue. I usually put citrus, vegetables, and berries in one bin, with apples and pears in the other. Even better, find another cool storage area for apples and keep them out of the fridge completely.”
“With the exception of watermelon, most melons (medium to high producers) produce enough ethylene that they don’t need to be held with apples (high to very high producers). If the melon is very hard, it might benefit from being placed next to apples for a day or two, but it wouldn’t need to be in a paper bag. Watermelon doesn’t produce a lot of ethylene, but it does respond to it.” Therefore, if your watermelon is ripe enough, don’t put it next to produce that produces a lot of ethylene.
“Peaches, nectarines, and plums are all pretty good producers, and they’re high responders. As long as they have not been cut, they can be left at room temperature to ripen. I typically pick several with varying degrees of ripeness. The softest ones get eaten first, then the next softest, and so on.”
Are apple slices sold in small bags (for example, at Subway and McDonald’s) safe to eat?
It’s always ironic and unfortunate when efforts to make our food choices healthier lead to the opposite result. A Shelf Life Advice quick computer search turned up two recalls (due to pathogens) on commercially cut-up apples, one recall in 2009 and one in 2010. (There may have been more we didn’t catch.)This led us to ask: how risky is it to eat commercially sliced apples?
Generally, the more that food is handled before it reaches your home, the more likely it is to become contaminated somewhere along the food processing chain. The packages of apples we looked at were treated with an antibrowning agent (citric acid and calcium) but nothing more. Are these a safe product?
Dr. LaBorde gave us this answer: “The risk can be controlled if the people handling the product know what they’re doing. If they use a slicing machine, how often is the machine cleaned? Any time you chop up something, creating more steps, the risk is increased.” However, Dr. LaBorde expressed some confidence that major companies such as McDonalds, who are very eager to avoid the bad publicity associated with a recall on one of their products, make every effort to work out procedures that will result in a safe product.
With Dr. LaBorde’s reassurance in mind, three of us tried a Subway sliced apple packet (which are unpeeled) and a McDonald’s packet (which is peeled and comes with a caramel dipping sauce). They tasted fine--firm and juicy--and did not make us sick. Our advice: 1) these packets say “Keep refrigerated.” Don’t buy them if they’re not refrigerated in the store. Also, if you bring them home, refrigerate. Don’t put them in lunches brought to school or work and left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. 2) Pay attention to the “use by” date; they probably won’t taste good after that.
What type of wash should homemakers use to decrease the risk of consuming contaminated produce?
According to Dr. LaBorde, a commercial wash treatment or one that the consumer concocts is no better than cold running water. The number of microorganisms required to make someone sick is very low; a stronger wash isn’t going to kill all of them. “Whatever you do in the home is too late,” he says. “There shouldn’t be any E. coli on the product in the first place.” He urges consumers not to use bleach on their produce. “That introduces chemical hazards that may outweigh the microbial hazards.”
Regarding greens, here’s Dr. LaBorde’s advice:
- Whole lettuce: Pull off the outer leaves and discard. Wash under cold running water the part you’re planning to use that day.
- Bagged greens: No need to wash these; they’re prewashed.
Is a bag of greens less likely or more likely to be contaminated than a whole head of lettuce?
On the one hand, there’s more risk of contamination from the additional handling. However, the magazine First for Women quotes David Acheson, M.D. former associate commissioner of foods at the FDA, as follows: “’Triple washed’ or ‘prewashed’ bagged salad used before its expiration date is likely safer than a loose head of lettuce, especially one that’s not properly cleaned.” The magazine says that big producers of prewashed greens use a new rinsing technology that removes much more E. coli than the traditional chlorine washes did.
Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences
Luke LaBorde, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science
fda.gov “Florida Company Recalls Sliced Apples”
fda.gov “Florida Company Recalls Sliced Apples”
engineeringtoolbox.com “Fruits and Vegetables - Optimal Storage Conditions”
Consumer Reports on Health “Surprising facts about food poisoning” August 2011.
First for Women “Keep Your Salads Safe from E. coli” 8/8/11.