Report: Unsafe food puts lives at risk

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - A new report called "Total Food Recall: Unsafe Foods Putting American Lives at Risk" by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group states more must be done on a federal level to keep our food safe.

Despite beefed up food safety laws, tainted food has sickened more than 48 million people each year.

Seven-hundred-eighteen were sickened last year and between January and September 2012, there have been 1,035 illnesses. That's a 44 percent increase.

E. coli, salmonella and listeria are the most common culprits. Last years recalls included, cantaloupes, ground turkey, papaya and ground beef. This year, mangos, raw tuna, peanut butter and bagged salad were among the growing list.

USPIRG researchers stated in the report, "More needs to be done to identify the contaminants that are making us sick and to protect Americans from the risk of unsafe food."

In response to the report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement, "The rule-making process can take time, and we are working diligently to get this right. We are confident the end result will be a solid framework to strengthen and modernize our nation's food safety system."

University of Houston Assistant Professor of Food Microbiology Jay Neal told Local 2, food safety awareness is on everyone's radar right now.
He explained, "Years ago, if someone got sick, they were uncomfortable. You never could trace it back to the food. But now, with bar codes and chips, we have better traceability. Is it perfect? No. We've got a lot more to go, but we're moving in that direction."

But he said, proper handling of food at home can greatly reduce our risk.

He explained that in the case of produce, "If you're bringing it in, it grew in a farm, wash it. So even if it says triple washed for your protection, wash it again."

When it comes to meat, invest in a thermometer.

Neal said, "As long as you cook it, it's going to be fine. So with a ground product, we're not going to eat rare burgers anymore. You need to cook it well done."

As for chicken, no need to wash it which can spread salmonella.

Neal said, "When you wash chicken in the sink, the water may splash up. It splashes on the counters. It gets all over the sink and there's a pretty good chance that salmonella's going to be on the chicken, so you've got it spread all over the kitchen now."

He said you can take chicken out of the package, "Pat it dry with paper towels. Throw it away. Wash you hands and prepare it."

Another common mistake people make is cross contaminating our utensils.

Don't use the same ones for cooked and uncooked food without washing.

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