- Meat and Poultry
- Fish and Shellfish
- 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?
- Are Nonstick Coatings on Cookware a Health Risk?
- Do Cast Iron, Glass, Copper, and Titanium Cookware Have Any Disadvantages?
- Does Using Aluminum Cookware Increase the Chances of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Is Stainless Steel Cookware a Good Choice?
- Is the New Silicone Rubberized Cookware Safe?
- 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
- FAQs on Farmers' Markets
- 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?
- 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 Food Safety and Nutrition
- FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies—the Answers Can Protect Your Wallet and Your Health
- 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
- Nine FAQs about Food Labels
- Quiz Yourself! Check Your Knowledge about Food Temperatures
- Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety
- 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
- 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
- Raw chicken, Leftovers, Deli Meats, and More-- What Surveyed Scientists Said
- Tips About 4 Popular Beverages: Wine, Coffee, Water, and Soda
- Tips on Water Safety During and After a Storm
- Introducing our Advisory Board Scientists
- Produce: Handling Tips
- Seasonal Tips
- A Novel Method for Cooking a Turkey
- Crock Pot Cooking Tips for that Ideal Winter Dinner
- Cucumbers: for Cool--and "Cool"--Summer Treats
- Going Away for All or Part of the Winter? Prepare Your Kitchen for your Absence
- How To Grill Safely During the Summer
- 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)
- Tailgating: How to Do It Right
- Tips on Keeping Your Summer Fruits Flavorful and Healthy
- Shelf Life Tips
- Tips for Carry-along Lunches for Work and School
- Tips for Freezing Food and Freezer Care
- Cooking Frozen Foods
- Freezers And Food Safety
- Freezers And Freezer Burn
- Freezers And Nutrient Retention
- How Often Should You Defrost And Clean Your Freezer?
- How To Defrost And Clean Your Freezer
- How To Defrost Frozen Foods
- How To Freeze Foods: The Quicker The Better
- How To Wrap Foods For The Freezer
- Refreezing Frozen Foods
- What You Can Freeze And What You Can't--Or Shouldn't
- Tips About Genetically Engineered Foods
- Tips for Grocery Shopping
- Tips for Holidays
- Answers to Questions about Thanksgiving Dinner
- Chocolate Is Even More Healthful Than You Thought
- Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day Without Cabbage Stink
- Everything You Need to Know about Cranberry Sauce
- Halloween Treats Even Parents Will Love
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Please
- Kitchen Gifts that Really Work
- Spring Celebrations: What’s on Your Menu?
- Suggestions for Handling Your Child’s “Trick or Treat” Treasures
- Tips for Winter Holiday Meals
- What NOT to Do With Thanksgiving Dinner
- Yikes! The Turkey Is Done, But the Guests Are Delayed! How Do I Keep My Thanksgiving Dinner Warm?
- Tips on Kitchen Equipment
- Tips for Refrigerating Food and Refrigerator Care
- Food Safety Facts
- How To Clean The Refrigerator
- How To Wrap Foods For Refrigeration
- How long can a pie be left unrefrigerated?
- Power Outage? Here’s What to Do with All That Food in the Fridge
- Proper Handling Of Produce In The Crisper(s)
- Proper Refrigeration Placement Of Raw Meat, Chicken, And Fish
- Six Tips for Extending the Shelf Life of Foods
- What Can and Can't Go In The Fridge Door
- Other Tips
- Microwave Cooking
- The 10 Most Dangerous Foods To Consume While Driving
- Are Your Kids Home Alone after School? Educate Them about Snacking
- Clever Inventions That Can Change Eating Habits
- Coffee, Juice, and Food in Central America
- Eggies™ to the Rescue?
- Ever Eaten “Glued” Food?
- Food Definitions: Umami, Locavore, Fruit, Heirloom, and Artisan
- Hot Dogs: What You Should Know about Them
- If You Don't Know Beans about Beans...
- In Defense of Processed Food
- Kids and Cooking: A Good Combo
- New Uses for Old Food: Try 'Em Out!
- Organic Farming and Organic Food: What Are the Benefits?
- Portabella Mushrooms and Their Relatives: How to Handle Them
- Ten Exotic Fruits: Novel Treats to Drink and Eat
- Tofu: Water Regularly, Consume Promptly
- What This Site Is All About and How to Navigate It
- What We're Eating This Year: Ancient Grains, Coconut Oil, Kale, and More
- About Us
- In the News
Imported Foods—What’s Safe, What’s Risky?
1. The amount of imported food entering the U.S. keeps escalating. At least 25,000 shipments of FDA-regulated foods (from almost 100 countries) enter the United States every day. According to the FDA, “What we have is a global supermarket and the products Americans purchase come from all over the world. More foreign facilities are supplying the United States with products, the volume of imported products is increasing, and the supply chains continue to grow in complexity.”
USA Today supplied a few examples of what we import: anchovies from Thailand, dried apricots from Turkey, grapes from Chile, and sesame seeds from India. The newspaper went on to say this: “…imports account for 80% of the nation’s seafood, 45% of its fresh fruit, and 17% of its fresh vegetables.”
BUT the FDA inspects only about 1% of the imported food the agency is responsible for. Nearly all products are allowed in after a quick electronic review of information submitted by the importer or its agent. On the other hand, the USDA inspects about 16% of the meat and poultry it supervises. Better funding enables this agency to do a better job. But about 80% of American food is under the supervision of the FDA.
2. Media coverage of the new Food Safety Act emphasized its provisions for improved FDA supervision of imported foods. Since it will take awhile for the provisions of the Act to be implemented, the consumer of imported products has to wonder what risks are currently involved in enjoying these exotic delicacies.
3. Then there’s the little matter of money. According to the Chicago Tribune, the legislation does not come with built-in funding and would require $1.4 billion over the next five years. The necessary spending bill will have to be approved in a House controlled by Republicans, many of whom voted against the original measure.” If the FDA doesn’t get sufficient annual funding from Congress, some of the safety provisions outlined in the Act will just be words on paper.
How much imported food does the average American eat?
Nutrition Action (Jan./Feb. 2011) supplies these statistics: “The average American eats roughly 260 pounds of imported food every year. Imports account for close to 15 percent of our diet.” [That’s up from 13% in 2008]. The article goes on to say that about one-fourth of our fruit nad half of our nuts come from other countries.
Why do we allow so many imported products into the U.S.?
• In some cases, the product may not be grown anywhere in the U.S. The best example is bananas. Almost none are grown in the U.S., yet bananas seem to be in most American homes.
• Many imports satisfy seasonal needs. USA Today says, “At the border checkpoint near Nogales [the border cities in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico] in the peaks winter season 1,000 produce trucks arrive daily, carrying eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and other products.”
• Then there are the imported packaged goods that consumers purchase because the item may not be produced at all in the U.S., or the imported ones taste better and/or more “authentic.”
What is the main problem with imported foods?
According to food scientist Dr. Karin Allen, the main problem with imported foods is not contamination with pathogens; it is label compliance. In other words, some products contain ingredients not allowed in foods in the U.S. These include pesticides, additives banned in the U.S., or common allergens that the FDA requires be listed on the package but aren’t listed.
Will the new Food Safety Act provide increased protection from contaminated imported food?
According to FoodSafety.gov, the law provides significant enhancements to the FDA’s ability to oversee food produced in foreign countries and imported into the U.S. In addition, the FDA now has the authority to prevent a food from entering he U.S. if the facility has refused inspection. The legislation requires foreign food producers to certify that they met FDA standards and would allow the agency to evaluate foreign food safety authorities to ensure that contamination risks are controlled. Food scientist Joe Regenstein points this out: “Each country DOES have an agency equal in principle to the FDA. Some are a lot worse than the FDA, and some are better at controlling contamination risks.”
Nevertheless, the scientists on the Shelf Life Advice Advisory Board expressed concern that the Act would not have much impact because it’s likely to be inadequately funded. If that happens, the FDA would not have the resources to do the kinds of inspections and testing needed to make significant improvements. Right now, the FDA’s number of inspectors, lab equipment, and computer facilities are not adequate to carry out the provisions of the Act.
According to Dr. Allen, what the Act does do is shift more responsibility to manufacturers to keep careful logs of their procedures and plan ways to avoid contamination hazards. In addition, she explained, companies that are exporting food to the U.S. can register with the FDA. Those that register are likely to try harder to keep their products safe because registration alerts the FDA to their existence. Furthermore, a company that registers must also file a report on their processes with the FDA.
The Act also gives the FDA the power to order recalls on their own authority rather than having to rely upon the industry to voluntarily recall tainted products.
Why does the Food Safety Act focus on the FDA and not the USDA?
The USDA has better funding, so it is better able to monitor the foods supply (meat, poultry, etc.) it is in charge of. Also, the FDA handles about 80% of our food supply. Food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter explains that the USDA requires every plant to have a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan that looks at every step in their process, the hazards that might be introduced at that step, and ways to avoid any risk to food safety.
When will the new law go into effect?
Some provisions have gone into effect already. Others will take more time to implement, and still others are dependent upon budgeting.
What imported products, if any, have pesticide levels above acceptable U.S. limits?
Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser points out that the FDA has a pesticide-residue monitoring program. Consumers can find out what specific imported products and which countries of origin have the most violations of U.S. law. To see tables on this information, click here .
Should Americans worry about the safety of imported meat and poultry?
No. The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, has the power to refuse shipment of any imported goods that don’t pass inspection. USDA inspectors also visit some foreign plants and hold foreign meat producers to the same standards as U.S. companies are required to meet. Only a few countries are allowed to export poultry to the U.S. and often it’s only cooked product. As a result, foreign meat is almost as safe as domestic meat, according to Dr. Regenstein.
Will the Act have much effect upon imported cheeses?
Food scientist Dr. Clair Hicks provides this answer: “The impact of the Act on cheese would be small. Generally, only premium cheeses are imported to the US. Only high quality, unique cheeses command enough price to be worth the cost of importation. Thus, only the aged and middle moisture cheese are generally imported. These cheese generally have more than 60 days of age on them by the time they reach retail, so they are pretty safe.
“The white high moisture cheese coming in from Mexico is the biggest concern. Currently, these cheeses must be made from pasteurized milk, but verification has been a problem. Tests are available to determine if the cheese milk was pasteurized, but this is not always done because there is insufficient funding to test each batch. Good importers require COA’s (certificates of analysis) with each shipment, so some information is available.”
The Food Safety Act would require that cheese and other foreign manufacturers have a verifiable HACCP program in place. This means that importers must verify that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place to ensure safety, and the FDA will be able to accredit qualified third-party auditors to certify that foreign facilities are complying with U.S. food safety standards. Dr. Hicks concludes, “This would probably eliminate cheeses from cottage industries from coming into the United States because of the cost of verification.”
How safe are our imported fish and shellfish?
In 2008, Consumers Union said the following: “Fish consumption is growing, and it is estimated that 83 percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Of that, 21 percent comes from China and much of the rest from developing countries in Asia and Latin America….We have considerable evidence that seafood imports from China pose significant safety risks.” Media coverage warned the public that imported fish were often raised in unsanitary conditions and then given chemicals banned in the U.S. to counteract the contamination. In 2007 and 2008, there was much media attention focused on the question of whether our imported fish and shellfish were safe to consume.
However, there have been no major recalls concerning fish and seafood in recent years. Dr. Regenstein believes that conditions might have improved: “I just visited a fish processing plant in China that was better than anything I have seen in the U.S.,” he said. According to Regenstein, very little of our imported seafood is contaminated although “trace residues of chemicals that are illegal in the U.S. but legal in other countries may show up because we now have the technology to detect them.”
Salmonella can be the result of unsanitary water or unsanitary handling by workers in the plant. However, when the fish is cooked to at least 145°F, the pathogens are killed.
What specific imported foods do our site’s scientists consider risky?
Dr. Joe Regenstein: “The main problem both in the U.S. and abroad is related to agricultural products that are not eaten cooked.”
Dr. Clair Hicks: “The white, high-moisture cheese coming in from Mexico is the biggest concern.”
Dr. Karin Allen: “There are a lot of recalls on imported dried fish, processed canned fish, and bottled fish pieces.” [The cause is usually Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause botulism, a serious, sometimes fatal, disease.]
Dr. Tim Bowser: “I do not purchase and try not to eat spices, flavors and salts, and candies from unknown or unrecognized international manufacturers. These items are among those most commonly rejected by the FDA for various reasons.”
Dr. Catherine Cutter: “I avoid off-brand or no-name food products (that may be purchased at international grocery stores) with labels in languages I don’t understand.”
“If the system is working properly, then imports should be no riskier than domestic products,” says Dr. Regenstein. Let’s hope the Food Safety Modernization Act is properly funded so that our “global supermarket” becomes a safer place to shop.
Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science
Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences
Clair L. Hicks, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Dept. of Animal and Food Sciences
Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D. , Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science
USA Today.com “U.S. food imports outrun FDA resources”
Chicago Tribune “ Food bill taking aim at imports”
Business section, December 21, 2010 p. 25
Fda.gov “Pesticide Monitoring Program FY 2007” http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodContaminantsAdulteration/Pesticides/ResidueMonitoringReports/ucm169577.htm
Consumersunion.org “Chinese Seafood Imports: Safety and Trade Issues”
fda.gov “Questions and Answers on the Food Safety Modernization Act”
FoodSafety.gov “What Does the New Food Safety Law Mean to You?”
fda.gov “FDA’s International Posts: Improving the Safety of Imported Food and Medical Products”