Food Safety 101

Millions of people become sick and thousands are hospitalized each year due to food borne illnesses. Luckily, practicing good food safety techniques will help to reduce your risk of developing food poisoning.

Certain people are more at risk for developing food borne illnesses and need to be extra cautious. This includes older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

The following tips will help to keep you healthy:

1. Keep it clean. Be sure that your kitchen surfaces and utensils are clean. It is also important to wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before, during, and after food preparation. You can sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to reach the suggested 20 seconds.

2. Prepare meat safely. To prevent contamination, keep raw meat separate from other foods. You should use two cutting boards; one designated for raw meat and the other for ready to eat foods such as bread, fruit and vegetables. It is also important to keep raw meat on the lowest level in the refrigerator to keep meat juices from dripping on other food. Remember that raw meat should be thawed in the microwave or refrigerator and never on the counter or in the sink.

3. Cook foods to the proper temperature. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked to the proper internal temperature. When cooking eggs, the yolk should be firm and not runny.

4. Refrigerate right away. Perishable foods and leftovers can’t be left out for more than two hours. Store perishable foods in your refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or cooler. Leftovers should be reheated to a temperature of 165°F or higher.

It is important to recognize the signs of food poisoning. People often confuse food borne illnesses with the flu. Signs of food poisoning commonly include: headache, backache, stomach cramps, fatigue, fever, nausea and diarrhea. Symptoms of the flue include: headache, muscle cramps, fatigue, fever, chest discomfort or cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose. Proper hand washing and food handling are the best ways to prevent getting sick with food poisoning. If you become ill with these symptoms, contact your health care provider.

Is Gluten Free the Way to Be?

If you hadn’t already heard about or know someone who has gone gluten-free, now is a great time to learn. May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. So what exactly is gluten and should it be avoided? We have your answers.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and the derivatives of these grains. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape and can be found in many items such as baked goods, pasta, soup, cereals, salad dressings, food coloring, beer, and even some medications.

The only people who need to follow a strict gluten-free diet are those diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity as it is the only treatment for them. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food by damaging a part of the small intestine called villi.

Some common problems from undiagnosed celiac disease include weight loss, abdominal pain, anemia, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, gas, joint pain, nausea, or migraines. The only way to know if you have celiac disease is by getting an antibody blood test or genetic test from your doctor. If celiac disease is suspected from one of those, sometimes a small intestinal biopsy is needed to confirm the disease.

Many people believe that following a gluten-free diet will lead to weight loss however many products, although gluten-free, may still be high in calories, fat, and/or sugar. Restricting gluten over time, if done correctly, may lead individuals to eat more whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats which could potentially lead to weight loss.

Following a very strict gluten-free diet can be expensive and hard to do. It takes a lot of planning and preparation. A gluten-free diet, by needing to restrict some of the grain or grain products containing gluten, could become deficient in certain vitamins/minerals including fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, and many of the B vitamins.

The bottom line on gluten-free diets? They are typically consumed by those unable to tolerate gluten in their bodies. There is no harm for others to follow a gluten-free diet but remember to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free whole-grain sources. Avoiding gluten will likely not directly aid in weight loss. A balanced diet and exercise are important components of a healthy lifestyle.

For more information visit the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness at http://www.celiaccentral.org or the Celiac Disease Foundation at http://www.celiac.org.

Decoding Nutrition Claims

Have you ever wondered what nutrition claims on food packages actually mean? There are many different nutrition claims made on food packages, everything from low-fat to high fiber, but what does “low-fat” or “high fiber” actually mean? Are there standards that are set in order for a company to label their food product as “low-fat” or “high fiber”? The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets strict guidelines that companies must follow in order to make a health claim on food products. The list below contains some of the most commonly seen nutrition claims on food products. Use this the next time you go to the grocery store to shop smart.

  1. Low Calorie: Less than 40 calories per serving.
  2. Low Cholesterol: Less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
  3. Reduced: Contains 25% less of the specified nutrient or calories than the regular product.
  4. Good Source of: Provides at least 10% of the daily value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
  5. Calorie Free: Less than 5 calories per serving.
  6. Fat Free or Sugar Free: Less than ½ g of fat or sugar per serving.
  7. Low Sodium: Less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
  8. High In: Contains 20% or more of the daily value of the specified nutrient per serving.
  9. High Fiber: Contains 5 g of fiber or more per serving.
  10. Light or Lite: Calories are reduced by at least 1/3 per serving less than the regular item.

The FDA also has set strict guidelines for nutrition claims and connections drawn to diseases on food packages. For example, health claims could include the relationship between calcium and osteoporosis, fat and heart disease, or sodium and high blood pressure. Be sure to keep these guidelines in mind the next time you grocery shop!