Just in time for the grilling, picnicking and partying that liven up the Independence Day weekend for Americans, the USDA is launching a campaign titled “Food Safe families,” encouraging consumers to follow some basic safety rules.
The campaign, which features print and television ads and social media, promotes four simple steps in food preparation:
- Clean: Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water while preparing food.
- Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards.
- Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.
- Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.
While these guidelines seem almost painfully obvious to many home cooks, it’s also apparent that significant numbers of U.S. consumers still don’t understand or follow them. People continue to be stricken with food-borne illness – one in six Americans every year according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and many of those cases could be prevented with proper food handling and preparation in homes and restaurants.
Consumer groups and food-safety activists sometimes bristle at suggestions that consumers need to accept some of the responsibility for preventing food-related illness, saying these efforts just serve to shift attention and responsibility away from the “real culprit,” the food industry. Yes, the food industry does bear responsibility for sending safe and wholesome food products to the market and should be held accountable. They generally do a good job, and continue to improve. Recent data from CDC show the incidence of illness from E. coli O157:H7 have been cut in half since 1997, and overall incidence of food-borne illness dropped by 23 percent.
But, of course, problems sometimes slip through, in spite of rigorous prevention and inspection programs. And there are plenty of opportunities for exposure of food products to pathogens as they travel from processing plants through wholesale warehouses, to retailers and on to the family fridge. No matter how many steps food companies or government regulators take to prevent food-borne illness, the home cook is the final, and critical link in the chain.
So, have a great Independence Day weekend, celebrate our great nation and be safe with your food. Also, be careful with the fireworks. Those things are dangerous.
Read more about the Food Safe families from the foodsafety.gov Web site.