Food Safety in the Kitchen

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Processing plants will be required to test meat and poultry for bacteria under new USDA rules intended to reduce disease-producing organisms known as "pathogens." The plants must implement HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) systems as a means of controlling their processes to prevent microbial contamination.

Even though HACCP in the plants will significantly reduce pathogens on meat and poultry products, these foods will not be sterile. While it's not practical to do microbial testing in home kitchens, the HACCP approach is also valid to help the consumer learn and practice safe food handling and preparation of all meat and poultry at home.

The improved inspection system will not replace good sanitation and safe food handling in the home. Consumers must still share in the responsibility for safe food and safe food handling. Meat and poultry which are properly handled and cooked at home should be safe.

About the New Rule on Food Safety

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is pursuing a broad and long-term science-based strategy to improve the safety of meat and poultry products and to better protect the public health. Part of this strategy is a farm-to-table approach to improve the safety of meat and poultry at each step in the food production, distribution, and marketing chain.

As a result, FSIS has published new regulations to modernize USDA's meat and poultry inspection system. Part of these regulations include a HACCP system of process controls to prevent food safety hazards.

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HACCP focuses on problem prevention. It involves taking a look at processes or food handling practices and identifying critical control points, or steps, where failure to take appropriate action is most likely to result in foodborne illness.

What Does HACCP Mean to the Consumer in the Home?

Recent surveys show that consumers are more aware these days of food safety issues. According to Bessie Berry, Manager of USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, "A recent Associated Press poll revealed that 89% of those surveyed said they follow the safety handling instructions on raw meat and poultry products. The safe handling instructions are really part of a HACCP approach which starts in the store and continues in the home."

But do consumers really understand what hazards and critical control points are? As in the meat and poultry plants, potential hazards in the home can be divided into three categories:

  • biological (bacteria);
  • chemical (cleaning agents); and
  • physical (equipment).

This focus will be on the biological hazards, or foodborne bacteria, which can lead to illness if the food is mishandled, particularly for those more at risk -- the very young, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.

Certain processes or handling practices by consumers in the home have been identified as being essential or critical in preventing foodborne illness. These practices, which prevent or control the "dinner plate" microbial contamination associated with foodborne illness, are under the direct control of the consumer, from food acquisition through disposal.

They are purchasing, storing, pre-preparation, cooking, serving, and handling leftovers. Failure to take appropriate action at these critical points could result in foodborne illness.

Critical Point 1: PURCHASING

  • Purchase meat and poultry products last and keep packages of raw meat and poultry separate from other foods, particularly foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Consider using plastic bags to enclose individual packages of raw meat and poultry.
  • Make sure meat and poultry products -- whether raw, pre-packaged, or from the deli -- are refrigerated when purchased.
  • USDA strongly advises against purchasing fresh, pre-stuffed whole birds.
  • Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids.
  • Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours.
  • Refrigerate within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90
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