How Safe Is Your Food? Time Not Your Friend When Power Goes Out, Refrigerator Stops Cooling

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timely food safety tips in the aftermath of irma

Time is not your friend when the power goes out and your refrigerator stops cooling. Typically, if the door is not opened food should stay within a safe temperature for four hours. Forty degrees Fahrenheit or below is a safe temperature for meats and other perishable. If raw ground beef, for example, is stored for longer than two hours above 40° F it must be discarded, it is simply not safe to eat because of the growth of possibly harmful bacteria.

EDITOR’S NOTE: September is the United States Department of Agriculture National Food Safety Education Month. We are delighted to once again welcome Dr. Arvind Dhople as a guest columnist to Space Coast Daily. His contribution is particularly timely in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. As we have all been dealing with disruption of water service and power, both of which are essential to ensure the safety of food and water, his tips outlined below provide vital information on managing our water and food consumption.

– Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA — Foods carrying certain pathogens are a common source of gastrointestinal infections. Each year, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans (or 55 million people) experience acute gastroenteritis caused by food borne illness, resulting in costs of $2 to $4 billion annually. Annually, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food

There are over 200 diseases caused by contaminated food or drinking water that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses and chemical substances. Proper food preparation can prevent most food borne diseases.

The most common symptoms of foodborne diseases are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Food contaminated with heavy metals or with naturally occurring toxins can also cause long-term health problems including cancer and neurological disorders.

There are many opportunities for food contamination. It can happen even in the confines of your house. The risk of food borne illness increased when you are not wary of the temperature in which to store particular food, if you do not wash food well before consumption and also if you do not cook thoroughly.

With power outages from Irma affecting food refrigeration for variable lengths of time, it is imperative to know and understand what refrigerated food are safe to consume after a power outage.

With power outages from Irma affecting food refrigeration for variable lengths of time, it is imperative to know and understand what refrigerated food are safe to consume after a power outage.

Today’s food supply is complex and involves a range of different stages including on-farm production, slaughtering or harvesting, processing, storage, transport and distribution before the food reaches the consumers.

Some people are more likely to get a food borne illness (also called food poisoning) or to get seriously ill. Food borne diseases affect vulnerable people harder. For infants, pregnant women, the sick and elderly, the consequences of foodborne disease and infections caused by contamination, are usually more severe and may be fatal.

Bacterial resistance to drug treatments has become more prevalent and is a major growing global health concern. In human clinical use, agricultural and animal husbandry, there is a major overuse and misuse of antimicrobials. This is one of the factors leading to the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in animals may be transmitted to humans via food and be harmful or in rare cases even fatal.

Everybody has a role to play in keeping food safe. Food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, industry, producers, academia, and consumers. Achieving food safety is a multi-sectoral effort requiring expertise from a range of different disciplines – toxicology, microbiology, parasitology, nutrition, health economics, and human and veterinary medicine. Local communities, women’s groups and school education also play important role.

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Here are 5 fundamental tips on how to safely handle food:

  1. Washing and sanitizing your hands frequently is essential. While most microorganisms do not cause diseases, dangerous microorganisms are widely found in soil, water, animals and people. These microorganisms are carried on hands, wiping cloths and utensils; especially cutting boards and slightest contact can transfer them to food and cause food borne diseases.
  2. Food must be properly cooked. Proper cooking kills almost all dangerous microorganisms. Studies have shown that cooking food to a temperature of 1580F (700C) can help ensure it is safe for consumption. Foods that require special attention include minced meat, rolled roasts, large joints of meat and whole poultry.
  3. It is essential to use safe water and raw materials. Raw materials, including water and ice, may be contaminated with dangerous microorganisms and chemicals. Toxic chemicals may be formed in damaged and moldy foods. Care in selection of raw materials and simple measures such as washing and peeling may reduce the risk.
  4. Again, raw food should be separated from cooked. Raw food, especially meat, poultry and seafood, and their juices, can contain dangerous microorganisms, which may be transferred onto other foods during food preparation and storage.
  5. You need to keep food at proper temperature. Microorganisms can multiply quickly at room temperature. By holding at temperatures below 40 degrees F (5 degrees C) or above 140 degrees F (60 degrees C), the growth is slowed down or stopped. Some dangerous microorganisms still grow below 40 degrees.

Life expectancy in industrialized nations have almost doubled in the past 100 years. The increase has occurred in large part due to three main factors acting to reduce infectious diseases: development of systems for the management of human wastewater, ensuring high quality safe drinking water, and high quality and safe food.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Arvind Dhople

Dr. Arvind Dhople

Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a post- doctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer. 

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