By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (Co-Chairs, President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG))
With the holiday season in full swing, many of us are thinking about the meals we’ll soon be sharing with family and friends. Whether it’s turkey and egg nog, or latkes, or a New Year’s buffet, food is always a central and cherished part of the festivities. Of course, we all know that a necessary ingredient for any meal is food safety.
When the President came into office, he said that “protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has.” He pledged to strengthen our food safety laws and to enhance the government’s food safety performance.
To help accomplish that goal, the Administration worked with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, and a broad coalition of industry and consumer groups, to enact the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA. FSMA is the most sweeping reform of our food laws in more than 70 years. It will apply modern scientific methods to target and prevent the most significant hazards and hold importers accountable for the safety of the food they bring into this country. FDA is working towards a release of proposed rules to implement FSMA and to build a modern new system of food safety oversight that harnesses the best available practices.
To oversee all of the Administration’s food safety efforts, the President created the Federal Food Safety Working Group, led by our two departments. Partner agencies include the FDA and CDC.
We’re pleased to say that the Working Group’s just released Report shows that this Administration has delivered substantial results in the area of food safety. These include stricter standards to prevent contamination of food with dangerous bacteria, stronger surveillance to detect contamination problems earlier, and more rapid response to illness outbreaks.
FSIS announced tougher and new standards to prevent as many as 25,000 illnesses annually from Salmonella and Campylobacter. FSIS will soon prohibit any raw ground beef found to contain six additional types of E. coli bacteria from being sold to consumers, preventing additional illnesses and deaths.
FDA established an egg safety rule that is expected to help prevent 79,000 illnesses and save one billion dollars each year. And its new “Reportable Food Registry” requires the food industry to file electronic reports about food safety problems. The Registry already led to the recall of products that presented a risk of Salmonella.
CDC, along with frontline state and local disease detectives coordinated the response to over 20 outbreaks across states and tracked more than 200 clusters of suspected foodborne illness. Many illnesses were prevented and lives saved by prompt action taken by Colorado and other states during the recent Listeria outbreak.
These are significant accomplishments, but our joint New Year’s resolution is that you’ll see many more great things in 2012. Among these next steps, the FDA intends to further strengthen food safety prevention efforts. We will take even greater strides on this front when the FDA issues proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
And we all need to do our part to keep food safe. Keep hands and work surfaces clean. Separate raw meats, eggs and seafood from other foods. Refrigerate any food that should be refrigerated, including pie, within two hours. Don’t use unpasteurized eggs or egg products for any recipe calling for raw eggs, and cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry, and fish achieve a safe internal temperature; turkey and stuffing should both be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make sure food safety is at the top of your holiday list - it’s the best gift you can give those who will gather around your table for the holidays.
By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
The holiday season is a time for celebration and great food. Don’t let merriment change to misery because food makes you or others ill.
Don’t give the gift of food poisoning; Keep things clean
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food.
- Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water before and after preparing each food item.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.
Separate to Avoid Cross-Contamination
- Whether shopping in the store, storing food in the refrigerator at home, or while preparing meals, keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked.
- Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked, such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and another one for those that will not be cooked, such as raw fruits and vegetables.
- Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
- Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
Cook to a Safe Internal Temperature
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should also be 165ºF.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
- Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
Chill Because Harmful Bacteria Grow Rapidly At Room Temperature
- Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated, including pie—within two hours.
- Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
- Thaw safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature. Cook food that has been thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
- Allow enough time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.
- Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.
For more information on Holiday Food Safety:
- View Holidays General Information
- Contact us at the Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free)
- Contact us online at AskKaren.gov
By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Mail-order foods have been around for awhile and now ordering online makes it easy to send or receive a tasty gift. Perhaps you placed an order for a gift of food for yourself or a family member or plan to send a gift of food. Either way, make sure it’s handled safely so you keep your family food safe.
A safety Checklist for Mail-Order Foods
- Make sure the company sends perishable items, like meat or poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold source. It should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
- The food should be delivered as quickly as possible — ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled "Keep Refrigerated" to alert the recipient.
- When you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated," open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm — above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer — notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste it.
- Alert the recipient that "the gift is in the mail" so someone can be there to receive it. Don't have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
A Safety Checklist for Perishable Foods Prepared at Home and Mailed
- Ship in a sturdy box.
- Pack with a cold source, i.e., frozen gel packs or dry ice.
- When using dry ice:
- Don't touch the dry ice with bare hands.
- Don't let it come in direct contact with food.
- Warn the recipient of its use by writing "Contains Dry Ice" on the outside of the box.
- Wrap box in two layers of brown paper.
- Use permanent markers to label outside of the box. Use recommended packing tape.
- Label outside clearly; make sure address is complete and correct.
- Write "Keep Refrigerated" on outside of the box.
- Alert recipient of its expected arrival.
- Do not send to business addresses or where there will not be adequate refrigerator storage.
- Do not send packages at the end of the week. Send them at the beginning of the week so they do not sit in the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
- Whenever possible, send foods that do not require refrigeration, e.g., hard salami, hard cheese, country ham.
For more information including a diagram of how to pack a perishable food items visit our fact sheet Mail-Order Food Safety.
Have a safe and happy holiday!
If you have any questions about turkeys and Thanksgiving, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.