The latest on Food Safety

I’ve cut back on reporting about food safety issues because there are just so many and not all of them really affect us. But like it or not, food safety has become an important issue, not just for home cooks, but for anyone who eats. And let’s face it — that’s all of us.

First some good news. The USDA has lowered the preferred temperature for cooking pork. Remember when we were all told that pork had to be cooked to well done, otherwise we might get sick? Well, today’s pork is leaner and no longer is raised in the out-of-doors, so they are exposed to fewer possible contaminants. You may now have a medium rare pork steak, chop or loin. Ground pork, however, should still be cooked to at least 160º, just like ground beef. The recommendation for whole cuts of pork is now the same as for beef or lamb, 145ºF. Poultry should still be cooked to 165º. The USDA also recommends all meat be allowed to stand off the heat untouched for at least three minutes before cutting or serving. All this coincides with what chefs have been saying for years.

Now, on to the bad news. There’s been a major outbreak of e. coli bacteria poisoning in Germany. Officials there have yet to find the source of the contamination. Three women have been killed and hundreds made sick. This new strain of e.coli seems to be centered around fresh vegetables grown using a liquid manure fertilizer. But officials stress that is not confirmed.

Some of the blame for the German epidemic is being placed on Spanish cucumbers. The food scare seems to be spreading to Sweden and other European countries.

Meanwhile, the USDA is under fire for not doing enough about this new strain of e. coli. Because it is a global economy and the U. S. relies on food from outside our borders, critics say it is likely the e. coli outbreak spreading across Europe will come to our shores soon. Here’s what the New York Times said about the issue:

“Although the federal government and the beef and produce industries have known about the risk posed by these other dangerous bacteria for years, regulators have taken few concrete steps to directly address it or even measure the scope of the problem.

“For three years, the United States Department of Agriculture has been considering whether to make it illegal to sell ground beef tainted with the six lesser-known E. coli strains, which would give them the same outlaw status as their more famous cousin. The meat industry has resisted the idea, arguing that it takes other steps to keep E. coli out of the beef supply and that no outbreak involving the rarer strains has been definitively tied to beef.”

Politics is once again affecting our health and our food supply. The USDA is conducting studies and may make changes in their food safety program, but it is unclear if they will make testing and other programs mandatory.

Canadian officials are warning the public not to eat a seasoned pork loin imported from Italy. Tests by the importer show there may be contamination with Listeria monocytogens. The brand name of the product is Fumagalli La Salumeria.

A Georgia retailer is recalling ground beef which may have been contaminated with e. coli bacteria. The store is called Food Depot #24.

Another ground beef recall is happening in Michigan. The product from Irish Hills Meat Company was shipped to restaurants in Southern parts of the state. The producer says the beef may be contaminated with e. coli.

In still more bad news about beef products, Texas Tech University has found that e. coli bacteria contamination is common in both ground and whole cut beef. However, the university report says the strains of the bacteria it found were mostly non-lethal.

An Oregon mug bean sprout farm has been put out of business by the Food and Drug Administration. The feds say the farm is rampant with Listeria.

The FDA is asking a court to shut down a Minnesota seafood company for putting public health at risk by selling fish improperly handled. The agency says the fish BCS African Wholesale sells could be contaminated with botulism.

Government agents have seized elderberry juice from a Kansas company. The company made what officials say were unproven and illegal health claims about the juice.

A Northern Illinois cheese company is recalling its mozzarella products because of possible contamination of antibiotics. The Walnut Cheese Company, doing business as Avanti Foods, says a load of raw milk was not properly tested.

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