Q: What is the first rule of food safety in the home?
A: The first cardinal rule of safe food preparation in the home is this: Keep everything clean. This is a great question - since September is National Food Safety Education Month and the theme for 2006 is "Don't Compromise - Clean and Sanitize."
The cleanliness rule applies to the areas where food is prepared and, most importantly, the cook.
¢ Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before starting to prepare a meal and after handling raw meat or poultry.
¢ Be sure that any open sores or cuts on the hands are completely covered. If the sore or cut is infected, stay out of the kitchen.
¢ Keep the work area clean and uncluttered. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria.
¢ Always use clean utensils and wash them between cutting different foods.
¢ Wash the lids of canned foods before opening to keep dirt from getting into the food.
Also, clean the blade of the can opener after each use. Food processors and meat grinders should be taken apart and cleaned as soon as possible after they are used.
¢ Do not put cooked meat on an unwashed plate or platter that has held raw meat.
¢ Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, rinsing in warm water. Don't use soap or other detergents. If necessary - and appropriate - use a small scrub brush to remove surface dirt.
Q: How often should I sanitize the kitchen sink drains and disposal?
A: The kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe are often overlooked, but they should be sanitized periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water or a solution of commercial kitchen cleaning agent made according to product directions. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with the moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
Q: What is the best way to clean kitchen counters?
A: Bleach and commercial kitchen cleaning agents are the best sanitizers, provided they're diluted according to product directions. Wash countertops with a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach to about 1 quart of water or with a commercial kitchen cleaning agent diluted according to product directions. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria. Hot water and soap does a good job, too, but may not kill all strains of bacteria. Water may get rid of visible dirt, but not bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths clean because, when wet, they harbor bacteria and may promote their growth. I prefer not using sponges, but if you must, wash them (and dishcloths too) weekly in hot water in the washing machine.
Q: How should I select and use cutting boards?
A: Cutting boards can harbor bacteria in cracks and grooves caused by knives. But with little effort, plastic, a hard wood (such as maple) or any nonporous surface can be used safely if used properly.
Select a board that can be cleaned easily, that is smooth, durable and nonabsorbent.
Wash your cutting board with hot water, soap, and even a scrub brush, to remove food and dirt particles. After washing it, sanitize your board in the dishwasher or by rinsing it in a dilute chlorine bleach solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach to about 1 quart of water.
Remember, always clean and sanitize your board after using it for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and before using it for ready-to-eat foods.
Q: Should I wash raw meat, poultry or seafood before cooking it?
A: Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, veal, or seafood before cooking is not recommended. Although washing these raw food items may get rid of some of the pathogens, it also allows the pathogens to spread around the kitchen. Cooking these foods to safe internal temperature destroys any bacteria that may be present. Also, don't forget to wash your hands with hot, soapy water before, in between, and after preparing these foods.
Q: How does Dannon's Activia Yogurt work?
A: This "new kid" in the yogurt aisle contains a new strain of bacteria that is promoted to help prevent constipation. This is how it works: Yogurt is traditionally made from whole, lowfat or skim milk. Two strains of bacteria cultures are added to produce acid for flavor as well as help the milk proteins gel. These two bacteria are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These beneficial bacteria pass through the stomach to the intestines to colonize and grow. Bacteria of this kind are classified as probiotic because they contribute to human health.
Activia yogurt contains these bacteria and a new bacteria called Bifidus Regularis. According to Dannon: "Each 4 oz. serving of Activia contains billions of beneficial probiotic cultures, including the exclusive Bifidus Regularis, which is clinically proven to remain live and active in the digestive tract where it exerts its effect. Activia works by helping to reduce long intestinal transit time - the time it takes food to pass through the digestive system. Studies have shown that this reduction in transit time has reached up to 40 percent, depending on levels consumed and the demographic profile."
Q: When a food product is labeled fat-free, does it really contain no fat?
A: The food-labeling regulations defines fat-free as having less than 0.5 grams fat per standard serving size and no added ingredient that is a fat or generally understood by consumers to contain fat unless marked by an asterisk. The asterisk may refer to statements such as "adds a trivial amount of fat."
So, food products labeled fat-free may still contain a trivial amount of fat. As an example, I evaluated the nutrition label of a fat-free margarine. The nutrition facts indicates that one serving - which is 1 tablespoon - contains 0 grams of total fat, yet I found out "the rest of the story" by reading the list of ingredients. Listed in the ingredients is "vegetable mono and diglycerides*" and at the end of the ingredient listing, it states "*Adds a negligible amount of fat." Mono and diglycerides are fat.
Q: What is the recommended amount of added sugars that we should consume each day?
A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture places added sugars at the tip of the Food Guide Pyramid and recommends consuming them "sparingly." The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises limiting added sugars to no more than 25 percent of total kilocalories. The IOM found that diets with more than 25 percent of caloric intake from added sugars were associated with significantly decreased levels of essential nutrients (e.g., calcium, magnesium, and zinc) in some population groups.
The World Health Organization (WHO), advises that consumption of added sugars should be limited to 10 percent of daily calories. This comes to 50 grams for people consuming 2,000 calories a day or about 12 teaspoons. The typical American consumes 20. By itself, that 20-ounce caloric soft drink in a school vending machine provides 15 teaspoons of sugar.
For those who are trying to cut back on the added sweet stuff here are a few key ingredients to watch out for: brown, raw or cane sugar, corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses or sorghum syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. These are all forms of sugar.
Also, remember that the higher an item is on the ingredients list, the more sugar there is by weight.
Advice for today:
¢ Choose sensibly to limit your intake of beverages and foods that are high in added sugars.
¢ Get most of your calories from grains (especially whole grains), fruits and vegetables, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and lean meats or meat substitutes.
¢ Take care not to let soft drinks or other sweets crowd out other foods you need to maintain health, such as low-fat milk or other good sources of calcium.
¢ Between meals, eat few foods or beverages containing sugars or starches. If you do eat them, brush your teeth afterward to reduce risk of tooth decay.
¢ Drink water often.