By Diane Van, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline gets extra busy this time of year with brisket, baked ham, and egg questions. Here are some Spring food safety tips based on questions our Hotline Food Safety Specialists have received from callers.
How long can I keep a ham in the refrigerator before cooking it?
To answer your question, we need to know what type of ham you’re buying and how it’s packaged. What does the label advise? The label is the best guide for determining storage time. It gives the product name, whether it’s smoked or cured, and whether you must refrigerate it. While USDA doesn’t require manufacturers to list the freshness date on products, many do. Look for the instructions on the label that tell you how long you can keep the product. For example: “Best if used by April 15.”
Is it safe to hide colored hard boiled eggs around the house or outside before an Easter hunt?
That’s not a good idea. It’s best to keep eggs refrigerated until hiding time. If eggs are left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, bacteria could multiply to dangerous levels and cause food poisoning.
I’ve heard you shouldn’t let food sit out. How can I host a Passover Seder and serve a safe meal?
You bring up a classic Passover dilemma in safe food handling. Often a Seder host wants to greet everyone when they arrive then participate in the ceremony. For a formal Seder you prepare a lot of food ahead of time, and no one wants to eat cold lamb, brisket or lukewarm gefilte fish. Remember to:
- Serve your cold foods -the eggs and gefilte fish- straight from the refrigerator. Keep them cold by nesting dishes in beds of ice or use a series of small serving trays and replace them often.
- Fully cook and slice the brisket before the Seder begins. Then either reheat it in the microwave while serving your matzo ball soup, or leave the foil-covered brisket, kept moist with gravy, in a warming oven (about 200°F) until serving time.
- Discard food that has been left out at room temperature more than two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
For more information, check out these resources:
- Spring Traditions: Serving Ham Safely
- Spring Traditions: Serving Brisket Safely
- Eggs-tra Care for Spring Celebrations
- Safely Preparing Corned Beef Brisket in a Slow Cooker
- Videos about ham, brisket and egg safety
If you have other food safety questions feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov
Have a safe and happy Spring celebration!
You may have recently heard about people getting sick from raw milk, or milk that has not been pasteurized (heated to kill germs). We have talked about its dangers before on this blog—and we want to give you some important updated information to help keep you and your family members from becoming ill.
New Raw Milk Study
A new CDC study looked at outbreaks related to dairy products over a 14-year period in the U.S. and found:
- Raw milk was much more likely to cause outbreaks than pasteurized milk
- Outbreaks caused by raw milk tended to cause more severe disease
- Younger people were affected more in outbreaks caused by raw milk than in outbreaks caused by pasteurized milk
- States that allow the sale of raw milk had more outbreaks caused by consuming raw milk
Drinking Raw Milk is Not Worth the Risk
Some people claim that there are health benefits of drinking raw milk. They may think that raw milk provides better nutrition than pasteurized milk. This is simply not true. Studies have shown that the nutrients in milk are not significantly affected by pasteurization. In fact, by consuming raw milk rather than fortified, pasteurized milk, consumers miss out on an opportunity to include a good source of vitamin D in their diets.
Even healthy adults can get sick from drinking raw milk. For some, getting sick from raw milk can mean diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting, often for days. For others, it can mean kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, and even death. Drinking raw milk is not worth the risk.
Although many foods can be enjoyed raw, milk and products made from it should never be one of them. Raw milk is a risky source of entirely preventable foodborne illness and can be contaminated with a variety of germs that can make people sick.
How can raw milk make you sick?
Raw milk and other raw dairy products can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that can make you very sick or kill you. Cows and other dairy animals can carry many different types of bacteria that can cause illness in people. These animals usually don’t appear to be sick because often they are not affected by these bacteria. These animals appear healthy and clean, but the bacteria can be present in their feces, in the milk itself, and on their skin, as well as in the environment of the dairy. Pasteurization is absolutely necessary to eliminate these bacteria from the milk and make it safe to consume.
No matter what precautions dairy farmers take or what they feed their animals, and even if laboratory tests for bacteria come back negative, they cannot guarantee that their unpasteurized milk, or products made from it, is free of harmful germs. You can’t look at, smell, or taste a bottle of raw milk and tell if it is safe to drink.
What You Can Do
As a consumer, you can take steps to minimize the risk of getting sick:
- Only consume pasteurized milk and milk products. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the dairy labels. If in doubt, don’t buy it!
- Keep all dairy products refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below at home and dispose of any expired products to reduce the risk of illness.
- If you consume soft, fresh, un-aged cheeses like queso fresco, make sure they are made from pasteurized milk. Aged cheeses made from raw milk are generally okay to eat because germs usually die off during the aging process. However, outbreaks associated with these aged cheeses have been identified.
For more information, check out these resources:
- Myths about Raw Milk
- Food Safety and Raw Milk
- The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk
- Raw or Nonpasteurized Products Can Make You Sick [PODCAST – 9:08 minutes]
- Got Milk? [PODCAST – 5:28 minutes]
By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
When it comes to safe food handling everything that comes in contact with food must be kept clean— including the refrigerator and freezer. You probably keep your refrigerator at home clean, but the office refrigerator may be a problem because it’s typically a shared responsibility. Here are some tips that may help.
Keep it at a Safe Temperature — 40 °F or Lower
Refrigeration slows bacterial growth. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the "Danger Zone," some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will effectively slow the growth of most bacteria. The freezer temperature should be 0° F. Be sure to check your refrigerator and freezer temperatures periodically with appliance thermometers.
Keep it Clean
If your office doesn’t already have a schedule for cleaning, why not start one? Make it a habit to throw out perishable foods left in the refrigerator at least once a week. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days.
Wipe up spills immediately before they turn into a major cleaning job. Clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinse.
Refer to the Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer chart for storage guidelines of perishable products in the refrigerator. Print a copy and post on the refrigerator door as a reminder for all who use it. To search for a specific food visit the Food Marketing Institutes’ “Food Keeper” website for more storage guidelines.
To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, and all cleansers that may impart a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of the refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check storage directions on labels
Many items other than meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold. For instance, mayonnaise and ketchup should go in the refrigerator after opening. If you’ve neglected to properly refrigerate something, it’s usually best to throw it out.
- Check expiration dates
If food is past its “use by” date, discard it. If you’re not sure or if the food looks questionable, throw it out.
- Be on alert for spoiled food
Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage. It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest practice is to throw out moldy food.
- Share the responsibility
Do you feel like you are the only one concerned about the cleanliness of the refrigerator? Make it a food safety issue! Not everyone may realize the importance of keeping all food contact surfaces, like the refrigerator, clean. Because bacteria are everywhere, cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food poisoning.
Post this blog on the office refrigerator. Maybe your coworkers will get the hint.