Dr. Tim Roberts' Tips
JACKSONVILLE -- April 10, 2002 -- An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick each year from eating food contaminated with food poisoning bacteria, or bacterial toxins, and many of those die. Jacksonville State University's Dr. Tim Roberts, a food safety expert in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, says the first step in preventing food-borne illness begins at the grocery store.
"Always pick up refrigerated and frozen food at the end of your shopping trip just prior to checkout," offers Roberts. "In the produce section, select fresh fruits and vegetables that show no sign of surface slime, mold growth or off color. Fruit should be colorful and firm to the touch.
"You should package your fruits and vegetables in plastic bags to prevent contamination from other grocery items. Remember to keep your meat, poultry and fish away from produce and other open foods when you place them in the cart."
Roberts warns that when purchasing dry staple foods, such as dry mixes, spices and seasonings, you should always make sure the packaging is intact.
Expiration dates on food packages are also important.
"Fresh meat, such as ground beef, should have a bright red color and be free of slime and off odors. Ground beef, fish, fresh poultry, and dairy products have a 'sell by' date to indicate how long the food can be displayed for sale. For optimum freshness, always purchase the food before the 'sell by' date expires," he said.
"When you're finished shopping and reach the checkout counter, make sure that frozen and refrigerated foods are bagged together and kept separate from other foods.
"When you leave the store, drive directly home so you can store cold or frozen foods in the refrigerator or freezer. If your trip from the grocery store to home will exceed 30 minutes, remember to bring a cooler with ice to store the cold food."
As you prepare food at home, you should avoid letting meat, poultry or fish reach room temperature, which will cause harmful bacteria to breed quickly, or allowing meats to come in contact with fresh fruit and produce.
"Undercooked ground beef and poultry, inadequately washed fruits and vegetables, and poor food-handling practices, including lack of or inadequate hand washing, will increase your risk of contracting a food-borne illness," he said.
According to Roberts, infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly susceptible to food-borne illness. If you'd like to know more about food safety, please contact Dr. Tim Roberts at 782-5054.
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