2002-06-22 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Everyone loves to be outdoors during warm weather, and for many of us, food plays a major role in our outdoor activities.  While warm temperatures are ideal for picnics and barbecues, it is also ideal for the growth of bacterial and other pathogens in our food. This is a leading cause of food illness.  Many people do not realize that in a short period of time, perishable food is very susceptible to bacteria growth.  By simply packing your food in a cooler with lots of ice, you can significantly reduce the threat of food borne illness.

In warmer weather, it is especially important to take special precautions and practice safe food handling when preparing and storing perishable foods, such as meat, seafood, milk, and other dairy products.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education suggests several steps to ensure food safety in the summer.  By keeping these steps in mind, you can protect yourself from illness and further enjoy the weather.  The steps include: Always wash your hands with hot water and soap prior to handling food; When marinating foods, keep refrigerated and do not use sauce used to marinate raw meat on cooked food.

When grilling foods, preheat the coals for 20-30 minutes.  Heat kills bacteria. Use a thermometer to ensure that food reaches a safe temperature.

Hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees; roasts and steaks may be cooked to 145-160.  Ground poultry to 165-170.

When taking food off the grill, use a new plate.  Never place the cooked food on the plate that held raw food.

A full cooler will maintain its cold longer than a partially filled one.

Pack with extra ice!

Other important food safety tips include rinsing any pre-packaged salads. Some makers of pre-packaged salads label bags with instructions not to wash the contents prior to consumption.  Tests conducted on bagged salads have found the produce to have higher levels of bacteria than when compared to rinsed salad products.

In order to promote consumer awareness regarding the proper handling and preparation of produce, I sponsored A.3782-A which would require retail food stores which offer for sale any pre-packaged salads to post a sign warning consumers to wash such salads and all other produce prior to cooking and consumption.

As the summer season begins, I hope you find these food-handling tips are helpful in protecting against food illness.

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