Valentine’s Day is probably the most popular date night of the year. Romance and special dinners fill the bill either at home or at a restaurant. A different kind of dating is useful when it comes to food safety—food product dating.
While people can enjoy dinner with their “dates,” there are also several types of dates that directly pertain to the food itself.
- A “Sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. The product should be purchased before the date expires.
- A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality; it is not a purchase or safety date.
- A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
- “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.
Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality if handled properly. If foods are mishandled, however, foodborne bacteria can grow and, if pathogens are present, cause foodborne illness – before or after the date on the package. The handling and preparation on the label should be followed to ensure top quality and safety.
Take food safety to heart and don’t let foodborne illness cause your date to expire. You can prevent foodborne illness from ruining your night by following these four basic messages of safe food preparation.
Clean: Clean bacteria away by washing your hands before and after handling food, before eating, after a visit to the restroom, after contact with animals or pets, and after coughing, sneezing, or nose wiping. Thoroughly wash and rinse utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with soap and hot water. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.
Separate: Separate yourself from sickness by keeping raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood (and their juices) away from other foods. At the grocery store, separate these foods from other items in the shopping cart. Place them in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food and potentially spreading harmful bacteria. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
Cook: Keep bacteria from crashing your party by using a food thermometer. Since color and temperature are unreliable indicators of safety, using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria.
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F.
- Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
Chill: Maintain a healthy relationship with your leftovers. Either eat them within two hours of arriving home or refrigerate them promptly. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that the temperature of the refrigerator is 40 °F or below and the temperature of the freezer is 0 °F or below. Perishable food should be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or in cold water and never on the counter or in hot water. Perishable foods should be frozen if they cannot be consumed within recommended storage times.
By following these four basic messages, you and your date will be safer, healthier, and have a better opportunity to avoid foodborne illness.
Questions? Ask Karen, USDA’s virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
Government officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice Mexican Flavor sold in 5- and 25-pound bags. Out of an abundance of caution, the FDA is warning food service companies and consumers not to use any Uncle Ben’s Infused Rice products sold in 5- and 25-pound bags. These products are sold to food service companies that typically distribute to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other commercial establishments.
However, the products may be available over the Internet and at warehouse-type retailers. Food service companies and consumers who have purchased the products should not use the rice, and should return it to their point of purchase or dispose of it. Uncle Ben’s Brand Ready to Heat, Boxed, Bag or Cup products sold at grocery stores and other retail outlets are not being recalled.
For more information and photos of the rice products, visit the FDA press announcement.
An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, an auto-immune digestive disorder, that can have serious health consequences. For them, FDA’s recently issued standard for the claim “gluten-free” on food labels is critical. This new regulation provides consumers with the assurance that “gluten-free” claims on food products are consistent and reliable across the food industry, and gives them – especially those with celiac disease – a standardized tool for managing their health and dietary intake.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains, like triticale. Foods that typically contain gluten include breads, cakes, cereals, pastas, and many others. Gluten is the ingredient that gives breads and other grain products their shape, strength, and texture. However, many of these grains can be made gluten-free.
FDA’s New Regulation for “Gluten-Free” Claims
Gluten-free is a voluntary claim that food manufacturers may choose to use in the labeling of their products. If manufacturers label their foods gluten-free, however, they are accountable for using the claim in a truthful and not misleading manner, and for complying with all requirements established by the regulation and enforced by FDA.
Before the regulation was issued, there were no U.S. standards or definitions for the food industry to use in labeling products “gluten-free.” This left many consumers, especially those with a health concern, unsure of a food’s gluten content.
FDA has set a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) for foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.” This level is the lowest that can be reliably detected in foods using scientifically validated analytical methods. Other countries and international bodies use this standard because most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with such very small amounts of gluten.
Foods That Can Be Labeled Gluten-Free
Whether a food is manufactured to be free of gluten or is free of gluten by nature, it may bear a gluten-free labeling claim if it meets all FDA requirements for a gluten-free food. Foods and beverages like bottled spring water, fruits, vegetables, and eggs are naturally gluten-free. However, even though a food may be gluten-free, the claim might not appear on the label because the regulation allows, but does not require, a gluten-free claim to be on the package.
Gluten-Free Labeling: What It May Look Like
The new regulation requires that gluten-free claims must be in compliance by August 2014. However, a gluten-free claim doesn’t have to be in any specific location on the food label, so, manufacturers may choose where they place it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with mandatory labeling information and meets the regulatory requirements.
Some manufacturers may decide to use the logo of a gluten-free certification program on their food labels, but FDA does not endorse, accredit, or recommend any third-party gluten-free certification program.
Packaging of some foods that were labeled gluten-free prior to the new regulation may look the same after August 2014 because the foods already meet the new definition and do not need revised packaging.
Products Covered by the Gluten-Free Regulation
The regulation applies to all foods and beverages (including packaged foods, dietary supplements, fruits and vegetables, shell eggs, and fish) except for:
- Meat, poultry, and certain egg products that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Most alcoholic beverages (all distilled spirits, wines with 7 percent or more alcohol by volume, and beverages made with malted barley and hops) which are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury
Reporting Adverse Effects and Misuse of Labeling
- Health Effects: Anyone who becomes ill or experiences adverse health effects that they think resulted from having eaten a particular food, including individuals with food allergies and those with celiac disease, should first seek appropriate medical care.
- Afterward, FDA encourages individuals to report the incident to the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System by calling 240-402-2405.
- Labeling Issues: Consumers and manufacturers can report any complaint they may have, such as potential misuse of gluten-free claims on food labels, to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in the state where the food was purchased. The list of FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators is posted on FDA’s website.