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- What are bacteria?
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- Defining Some Current Language about 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?
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- 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- Are stores required, by law, to remove outdated items from their shelves?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 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?
- 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
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- Ten Tips for Consumer Food Safety
- Food Allergies: Recognizing and Controlling Them
- “Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out
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- 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
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- New Year’s Resolutions For a Safer Kitchen
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Is It Safe? Is It Nutritious? More Survey Answers from Scientists
Does your grocery shopping include purchases of cheese, ground beef, canned fruit, products that contain high fructose corn syrup, sushi, or raw sprouts? Do you use sponges for kitchen clean-ups? If so, you might be interested in the answers that nearly 3 dozen food scientists gave to questions from Shelf Life Advice about these (and other) products.
What follows are 7 Q/As about food safety and nutrition from our recent 20-question survey. Answers don't total 100% when 1 or more respondents skipped a question. Part 2 of this survey contains the results from 6 multiple choice items and 1 Yes/No question. Three of the multiple choice questions allowed respondents to check multiple answers, which resulted in response totaling above 100%.
Unless otherwise indicated, all of the comments presented were made by scientists who responded to the survey. Some of these comments are not in quotation marks because the editor paraphrased their answers. Some comments are in quotation marks but have no source given because the authors preferred to remain anonymous.
Which of these would you not eat because you consider it risky?
(Respondents could choose as many responses as they felt described their behavior.)
a) raw sprouts: 69%
b) soft cheese made with raw milk: 84%
c) foods and beverages containing the artificial sweetener aspartame: 6%
d) sushi containing raw fish: 34%
e) none of the above--I would eat all of these: 3%
Comments from respondents:
"I've actually eaten all of these but am aware of the risks."
Raw fish muscle is sterile, and many types of sushi are made from frozen fish. (Proper freezing kills parasites.)
Aspartame is being replaced in low pH [very acidic] beverages because of its lack of stability and has not been widely used in foods.
Raw milk has a high risk of containing listeria [a bacteria that can cause serious illness].
Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems (such as those who are sick and patients on chemotherapy) should not eat raw sprouts, dairy products made with unpasteurized milk, or sushi made with raw fish.
"Recently I ate some soft cheese without asking if it was made from raw or pasteurized milk. I didn't want to offend the cheese maker. Knowing who made a particular food product (could be an individual or company) is really important to me and my judgment of the quality, cleanliness, and safety of the food." Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
From the Chicago Tribune, "Health and Family" section "Milk studies add to debate about what's best for health," Jan.15, 2014: "...1 to 3 percent of dairy products consumed in this country are not pasteurized. From 1998 to 2009, that resulted in 1,837 illnesses, two leading to death."
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) writes that listeria outbreaks “are mainly caused by soft Mexican-style cheese, like queso fresco, and other cheeses that were either made from unpasteurized milk or contaminated during cheese making.” (See "Listeria and Food".)
[Editor's note: To read more about the risks of consuming raw milk or soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, go to these Shelf Life Advice articles: "Must milk be pasteurized to be safe to drink? Is raw milk unsafe?" and "FAQs about Soft Cheeses--What's Safe, What Isn't."]
Sponges ________ .
(Respondents could choose as many answers as they agreed with.)
a) are so difficult to decontaminate that they shouldn't be used in the kitchen: 52%
b) can be safely decontaminated in the dishwasher: 35%
c) can be safely decontaminated in the microwave: 45%
d) can be decontaminated with hot water and bleach: 35%
e) can be decontaminated with a method other than those listed above: 14%
Comments from respondents:
"It's easier to bleach washcloths daily."
"I do not recommend the use of sponges because of the high water activity and safe harborage of bacteria that can then be spread to surfaces/areas where the sponge is used."
Comments from Shelf Life Advice:
For more information on safe handling of kitchen sponges, see "Must I banish sponges from my kitchen to avoid the risk of contamination?" In this article, food scientist Dr. Susan Brewer provides readers with an important warning: "NEVER MICROWAVE A DRY SPONGE. You could start a fire that way." She also explains exactly how to decontaminate a sponge with some of the methods listed in the question. Dr. Brewer says a dishwasher doesn't get hot enough to decontaminate sponges, but sponges can be sanitized by soaking them in bleach water (3 tablespoons of bleach in a quart of water).
[Editor's note: After contemplating Dr. Brewer's remarks (made in 2010), I stopped using sponges in my kitchen, and I haven't missed them. I agree with the respondent's statement above: it's easier to change washcloths every day and bleach used ones in the laundry than to decontaminate used sponges by other methods. Furthermore, I just can't bring myself to put dirty sponges in my microwave oven. Using paper toweling extensively gets expensive.]
How healthful is high fructose corn syrup compared to processed white sugar?
a) It's less healthful than sugar: 6%
b) It's the same as sugar: 50%
c) It's more healthful than sugar: 0%
d) Scientists don't have the final answer to this question yet: 44%
Comments from respondents:
"Break 'em down, and they're the same, about half glucose and half fructose."
"Many studies extrapolate from data on pure fructose, which should not be done. More study is needed."
The health problem is consuming too much sugar in either form. Both high fructose corn syrup and processed white sugar should be eaten in moderation.
Is it safe to cut off the moldy part of hard cheese (cheddar, brick, Parmesan, etc.) and eat the rest?
a) Yes. Just remove the mold: 33%
b) Yes. But only if you cut off the cheese that's 1 inch from the mold: 30%
c) Yes, if you cut off 2 inches from the moldy area: 13%
d) No. Discard the entire chunk of cheese: 23%
Comments from respondents:
"I don't know what kind of mold it is. It may have mycotoxin." Yao-Wen Huang, Ph.D, University of Georgia, Department of Food Science and Technology
"It all depends. I know that there is some concern about mold toxins, but the mold toxin issue is less of a problem than people make it out to be." Barbara Rasco, Ph.D., JD, Washington State University, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
"It's more of a taste issue. If you don't cut off enough, you can still taste the mold."
There would be less food-borne illness in the U.S. if ______.
(Respondents could choose as many responses as they agreed with.)
a) we stopped importing fish and shellfish: 10%
b) most Americans were vegetarians: 0%
c) everyone washed his/her hands before eating or preparing food: 93%
d) all of the above were true: 7%
Comments from respondents:
"Correctly washing hands is most important to reduce food-borne illness." Yao-Wen Huang, Ph.D., University of Georgia, Department of Food Science and Technology
[Editor's note: For correct hand-washing tips from the CDC, just google the topic.]
"Consumer food handling practices are not all that good. Home refrigerators are at too high a temperature. People tend to leave food out too long before refrigerating it (packed lunches, store purchases, etc.)" Barbara Rasco, Ph.D., JD, Washington State University, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
[There would be less food-borne illness if] "there was less cross-contamination between tainted water supply and vegetables."
[Editor's note: Since, as the above comment suggests, there is a lot of contamination of produce and so much produce is consumed raw, being a vegetarian does not provide protection from food-borne illness. Perhaps the imported fish item (a) was not selected more often because cooking fish to 145°F kills most of the bacteria that may be on the fish.]
Which is most likely to be contaminated?
a) packaged ground beef: 30%
b) ground beef the consumer grinds at home: 33%
c) ground beef purchased from the grocery store meat section: 22%
d) ground beef the consumer asks the butcher to grind after selecting a whole cut of meat: 15%
Comments from respondents:
"Ground beef prepared from ground whole cuts by butcher or consumer is less likely to be contaminated than packaged/store packaged ground beef that includes trim. I chose this answer presuming that the store simply repackaged meat from chubs/bulk coming in from a commercial supplier. Food handling could be a new source of contamination." Barbara Rasco, Ph.D. JD, Washington State University, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
"It could be either (c) because it's ground in huge quantities, mixing up all the attached bacteria, or (d) because microbial quality control of what goes into that grinder [in the store] is not as good as in a big processing plant. Bottom line, consumers should use ground meat within a couple of days."
"Microbial pathogens don't care where the meat is ground. I think it is more helpful to focus on safe handling, avoiding cross-contamination, proper cooking, etc. regardless of product source."
[Note: ground meat should be cooked to 165°F.]
Is raw fruit more nutritious than canned fruit?
Yes: 45% No: 41% Don't know: 10% Don't choose to answer: 3%
Comments from respondents:
It depends upon how recently the fresh fruit was picked and on the type of fruit being compared.
"It depends upon the product. There is some loss of vitamin (such as C) during the canning process, but most nutrients are retained. Fruit with substantial added sugar (heavy syrup) may not be advisable for some consumers." Barbara Rasco, Ph.D. JD, Washington State University, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
"Both are nearly equal." Melvin Hunt, Ph.D., emeritus professor, Kansas State University, Department of Animal Sciences and Industry
To read Parts 1 and 3 on our survey results, click on the following titles: