Sep 24, 2012

Eating Safely In Hawaii

The salmonella bacteria 
is the second most common 
cause of foodborne illness
in the United States.
Recently here on Moloka'i, a well known bakery was closed and fined $90,000 for health code violations including improper cleaning and sanitizing of cooking implements and surfaces, inadequate rodent control, lack of hot water and general unsanitary conditions. Eating safely is a big, big problem in the U.S., and especially in Hawaii. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention, CDC, estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. What does that mean to you? It means that whether you eat out or eat at home, there are simple precautions you can take to make sure you, or your family don't get sick from food poisoning.

Here are steps you can take 
to prevent food poisoning in your home:

Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils, cutting board and other surfaces you use. Put a few drops of bleach in a spray bottle filled with water and keep it on you kitchen counter. Every night, spray your counter tops and sink. This is an easy and cheap way to disinfect your prep surfaces that I learned in culinary school. Germs don't like bleach and it only takes a few drops!

Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, preparing food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.

Cook foods to a safe temperature. The best way to tell if foods are cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F (71.1 C), while steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Pork needs to be cooked to at least 160 F (71.1C), and chicken and turkey need to be cooked to 165 F (73.9 C). Fish is generally well-cooked at 145 F (62.8 C).

Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. If the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour.

Defrost food safely. Do not thaw foods at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost foods in the refrigerator or to microwave the food using the "defrost" or "50 percent power" setting. Running cold water over the food also safely thaws the food.

Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren't sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can't be destroyed by cooking. Perishable food held at temperatures above 45˚F for more than two (2) hours should be discarded. If the food has been at room temperature for an unknown amount of time, it should be discarded. Spoiled food may have off-colors or unusual odors. However, food poisoning and food spoilage are caused by different bacteria. Food that has become tainted by food poisoning bacteria cannot be detected by sight, smell, touch, or taste. You should not taste questionable food. Don't taste food that you're unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.

How can you prevent food poisoning eating out:

Have you ever gotten sick from food poisoning at a restaurant? Did you notice anything about your food, or the restaurant/staff, that should have clued you in? One of the easiest ways of telling if a restaurant is clean and safe to eat in is by looking around. Keep in mind that how people take care of the outside of their restaurant offers some great insight into how they take care of the inside. If the outside is grubby and unkempt, what’s the kitchen going to look like? Also take a look at the cooks and wait staff. They should have clean aprons, uniforms and hands. Cook staff especially should not be wiping their hands on their uniforms (which harbors bacteria that can spread to food). When the food is served, does it smell good. If there's any kind of funny odor or taste, or if it is undercooked, send it back. Undercooked food supports the growth of bacteria. This goes for all your food. If the food is supposed to be hot, it should be steaming. If cold, you should be able to feel the coolness. Lukewarm anything is bad. 

It's hard to know where to draw the line on being overly-cautious. The bottom line is that if you are planning to eat out at a public location there really is no way to guarantee that you don't end up suffering from food poisoning. Unfortunately in most restaurants you can't see the kitchen where the food is prepared, so we have to rely on our health inspectors to regularly inspect restaurants. If you do see a problem, give your local health department a call, it's their job to regularly inspect these places and protect us from food poisoning. 

According to Hawaii News Now in Honolulu, the state of Hawaii is finally working on a new placard system that California has had for years. It is designed to let people know how clean restaurants are. Here's how it will work, the Green "Pass" placard means the restaurant has had one major violation or less that was corrected. The Yellow "Conditional Pass" means there were at least two major violations that are yet to be fixed. The Red "Closed" means the food permit was revoked because the immediate danger and the establishment is shut down until further notice. "The main point of this is to reduce the incidents of food borne illness risk factors and that will hopefully translate into less food borne illness in Hawaii so it's just protecting public health. State staffing levels are also going up. There are 11 food inspectors now. There will be 25 by the end of the year. That's good news since a restaurant now is only inspected once every two and a half years. It should be as much as three times a year" said Peter Oshiro, State Department of Health Environmental Health Program Manager. The state plans to hold public meetings on the issue in the coming months and then implement the new placard system early next year.

For more detailed information about protecting your family from food poisoning, check out this website. Click here.

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