Home food safety involves managing risk

Richard Bogren  |  12/14/2016 9:59:43 PM

(12/14/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – Risk comes with every bite of food we take.

Causes of foodborne illness can exist in all types of food, said LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu.

“No matter if we are discussing animal products or fresh produce, organic or non-organic, raw ingredients or processed foods, long distance distribution or local, they all have risks associated with them,” Xu said.

Steps are taken along the chain of food harvesting, handling, processing and shipping to manage risks, but contamination can still occur, she said.

Consumers must take their own precautions to reduce the incidences of foodborne illness. Xu cited two holiday foods – eggnog and turkey – to demonstrate different types of risk and what consumers can do to manage them.

Eggs can contain the foodborne pathogen Salmonella, but the risk of being infected with Salmonella is low in just one egg, she said.

“If I pick up one egg, I have an approximately 1 in 20,000 chance of getting Salmonella, which is not significant,” Xu said. “However, if I crack 100 eggs and combine them, I have just increased my risk by 100 times.”

Even that risk is still not significant, she said. But if a facility is combining thousands of eggs to make eggnog, then the risk becomes greater.

Xu’s recommendations for managing the risk associated with eggnog include buying eggnog made with pasteurized eggs or using pasteurized eggs when making eggnog at home.

Turkey can also contain foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, she said. If those pathogens are present in a frozen turkey, the level should stay the same while it’s thawing in a refrigerator.

“You manage the risk by cooking the turkey to the required temperature – 165 degrees,” she said, adding that raw poultry juice, which can contaminate surfaces while thawing and prepping, is another risk to manage.

Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces reduces the likelihood of contamination.

Thawing a turkey in a microwave can promote the growth of pathogens, Xu said.

“You are actually heating up the outside of the turkey, which increases the risk,” she said. “You manage the risk by cooking it right away.”

Xu produces an audio program, Food Safety Bites, which takes on food safety issues. The segments can be food at the LSU College of Agriculture School of Nutrition and Food Science website at http://www.lsu.edu/departments/nfs/outreach/food-safety.

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