Archive for the ‘Front Page’ Category

A New Resource to Help Curtail Norovirus: Pictogram Disinfection Posters

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Norovirus, the dreaded illness popularly known as the “stomach bug,” is the leading cause of gastrointestinal upset in the US. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 19 to 21 million cases of norovirus in the US annually. The highly contagious virus is an unwelcome visitor in schools, day care and elder care settings, offices, sporting venues, cruise ships and more. Norovirus presents the greatest health risk to young children and the elderly. norovirus prevention poster norovirus cleanup posterGlobally, the economic burden of norovirus hovers around $60 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

The Perfect Pathogen

As described by CDC’s Dr. Aron J. Hall in an “Editor’s Choice” article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in May, 2012, norovirus may be the “Perfect Pathogen,” because, among other factors, it:

  • Is quickly and profusely shed through diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Only requires a minimum of about 18 viral particles to infect an individual (up to five billion infectious doses are present in each gram of feces from an infected person).
  • Is environmentally stable; it can survive both freezing and heating, although not thorough cooking; it is resistant to many chemical disinfectants; it can persist on surfaces for up to two weeks.
  • Rapidly evolves before the population develops immunity.
  • Is associated with a low mortality rate. Of nearly 700 million annual cases of norovirus worldwide, there are approximately 219,000 deaths, a mortality rate of only about 0.031%. Its low mortality rate helps keep the virus alive and spreading to others.

Given these characteristics, norovirus will continue to be a force to be reckoned with at least until a successful vaccine is developed and disseminated.

Norovirus Disinfection Posters

In 2013, a team of public health and consumer advocates was convened by the American Chemistry Council’s Chlorine Chemistry Division to develop a set of clear instructions for disinfecting surfaces against norovirus using appropriate solutions of chlorine bleach. The need for simple-to-follow directions was great, according to a request from the New Jersey Somerset County Department of Health. The ad hoc task force included representatives from the New Jersey Somerset County Department of Health, CDC, the National Environmental Health Association, the Water Quality and Health Council and the American Chemistry Council. The posters developed by the group are available on the “Resources” page of the Water Quality and Health Council website, and have been downloaded tens of thousands of times.

Discussions at the Albuquerque Norovirus Conference in the summer of 2016 identified the fact that some food industry and other workers do not read in any language (not even their own), prompting the need for a set of norovirus “pictogram” posters to illustrate with as few words as possible norovirus surface clean up and disinfection steps. The ad hoc group that developed the first set of “language” posters (now in English, Spanish and French) reconvened and welcomed the input of our colleagues from the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department in developing the new poster resource. The pictogram posters, illustrated at the top of this article, are the proud product of our careful collaboration, and join the “language” posters as freely downloadable resources from the Water Quality and Health Council website. It is our sincere hope that all of these posters will be used widely to help curtail the spread of the notorious norovirus.


Linda F. Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council.

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Fancy Meeting You Here! Targeting Household Germs in Unexpected Places

Friday, April 7th, 2017

PerspectivesPic1When the weather warms up after a long winter, I get the urge to throw open windows and tackle spring cleaning chores. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to complete these chores, but I recently learned from WebMD that some of the germiest places in homes are not even on most people’s radar. The table below, based on information from WebMD, lists the most unexpected hiding places for household germs, the reasons why they thrive in those places, and how you can reduce their unwanted presence.


Germ Hangout

Why They Love it There

What to Do About it

Kitchen sponge For germs, the kitchen sponge is a moist maze of top-notch dwelling places. Not only is there regular contact with water, but there is also often plenty of food debris swept up in sponges to sustain germs.

According to WebMD, your kitchen sponge is probably the dirtiest thing in your house.

Researchers from the University of Florida report microwaving very wet sponges for two minutes at high power kills or inactivates more than 99 percent of all sponge germs. (See For Disinfecting Sponges, Microwaving is a Simple Solution.)

Kitchen towels and dish cloths should be replaced daily and laundered using chlorine bleach, if fabric instructions permit.

Kitchen sink Lots of germs are washed into the sink when meals are being prepared; germs may originate from raw vegetables, fruit, meat, fish or poultry. The constant supply of water and food in the sink encourages germs to proliferate. Disinfect sink sides and bottom twice per week using a kitchen sanitizer. And pour a solution of one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water down the drain once each month.
Toothbrush holder Toothbrushes harbor bacteria from your mouth, and when kept near the toilet in your bathroom, can even become contaminated with fecal bacteria. Toothbrush holders harbor these same germs. First, position your toothbrush holder as far away from the toilet as possible. Do not allow adjacent toothbrushes to touch, and run the toothbrush holder through the dishwasher once a week. The good news is that toothbrush holders keep brushes vertical, which permits better drying between uses, and germs want moisture. Want to cut down on the germs you transfer to your toothbrush? Use an antibacterial mouth rinse before you brush your teeth.
Dog bowl Fido might appear to lick his food and water bowls “clean,” but don’t be fooled: Pet bowls are havens for microscopic “pets,” such as bacteria. Wash pet bowls daily with hot, soapy water. Once per week, soak bowls for about 10 minutes in a solution made by adding a cap of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.
Coffee maker The chamber that holds the water in your coffee maker is dark and moist, “home, sweet home” for bacteria. Give those bacteria a jolt by filling the water chamber with a few cups of white vinegar. Wait 30 minutes, then turn the machine on and let the vinegar run through. Follow up by running clean water through the machine.
Stove knobs Stove knobs are frequently touched, but often overlooked during cleaning. Stove knobs contact the hands of cooks, who shift back and forth between the stove and other food preparation spots, transferring germs and food debris to the knobs. Remove stove knobs and give them a hot, soapy bath once per week. If knobs cannot be removed, clean them in place.
Bathroom faucet Bathroom faucets are contacted by hands in need of washing by virtue of the reason people enter the bathroom in the first place. According to WebMD, faucet handles in the bathroom sink have more germs on them than the toilet handle or the bathroom doorknob. Motion-sensing faucets are an ideal solution, but short of that major investment, sanitize your bathroom and kitchen faucet handles daily using a kitchen or bathroom disinfectant.
Countertops Countertops are like bus stops for germs. These surfaces are where we may drop off and pick up the “germ du jour.” Daily, we deposit all manner of objects on countertops, and then proceed to wipe them down with our kitchen sponge (see public enemy #1 at the top of this list).   Is it any wonder that they become contaminated? Wash countertops with warm, soapy water, rinse and use a disinfectant recommended by the manufacturer of your countertop.

Linda F. Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council.

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Preventing Infection with Environmental Controls: A “Broad-spectrum” Approach

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Environmental ControlsAs reports of the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and “superbug” infections continue to make headlines, we think the time is right to consider the environmental controls at our disposal for fighting the spread of infectious illness. Environmental controls lower the risk of infection by taking the fight against pathogens into the environment. Once implemented, environmental controls can be thought of as offering “broad-spectrum” antibiotic protection.  

Examples of Environmental Controls in Preventing Infection

Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces: Hand contact with pathogens on frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs and hand rails, is a common way to spread infection. Surfaces may look clean but looks can be deceiving, and the surface may be teeming with germs invisible to the naked eye.  Once hands are contaminated, the host has only to touch his or her face—especially the eyes, nose or mouth—to increase the likelihood of infection. Regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces with disinfectants, such as dilute chlorine bleach solutions, can go a long way toward lowering the risk of infection.  

Appropriate handwashing: Handwashing for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water can send most hand-clinging germs down the drain (see “The Right Way to Wash Your Hands”). When soap and water are unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol) is a good compromise. Attention to hand hygiene is particularly important before preparing food, eating, and after using the bathroom or changing diapers.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls handwashing a “’do-it-yourself’ vaccine that is “…one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick. Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs.” In many situations, especially in public settings, handwashing is the most proactive measure an individual can take to avoid infection.  

Engineering solutions: We can also dodge pathogens with smart engineering solutions. Recently we wrote about a “staged mode of transmission” of superbug bacteria which, once washed down the drains of hospital sinks, colonize the P-shaped portion of the drainpipe and grow slowly back up toward the sink strainer. From there they are strategically positioned to be launched into the environment when running water impacts the strainer area. One way to avoid this exposure could be to relocate sink drains to an area of the sink not directly below the default faucet position.

Other engineering solutions that can help curtail the spread of germs are:

  • Antimicrobial copper alloy (such as brass or bronze) door knobs and countertops. 
  • Motion-activated faucets, soap dispensers and towel dispensers in public restrooms.
  • Disposable sanitizing wipes positioned at the entrances to grocery stores to wipe down shopping cart handles.

There is some speculation that the wonderful effectiveness of early antibiotics gave way to a relaxed attitude toward environmental controls. As the development of new antibiotics lags behind the evolution of resistant bacteria, it makes sense to harness all of the tools available to us, including time-tested, “broad-spectrum” environmental controls.  

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Superbugs: Rising from Hospital Drainpipes

Friday, March 10th, 2017

SuperbugsSuperbugs are sneaky creatures. A new University of Virginia (UVA) study reveals how these microbes, once washed down the drains of hospital sinks, colonize the drainpipe and rise up slowly along the sides of the pipe, eventually reaching the sink strainer. The researchers hypothesize that when the sink faucet is operated, the potential pathogens and superbugs may be splashed from the strainer over a distance of more than two feet, presenting an infection risk to vulnerable hospital patients.

A Significant Issue

Superbugs are multidrug resistant bacteria that are responsible for two million cases of illness and some 23,000 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. A CDC report notes that over 720,000 infections were contracted in hospitals in 2011 and that 75,000 of those patients died. The UVA researchers found over 32 recent reports describing the spread of bacteria resistant to the important antibiotic carbapenem via sinks and other reservoirs of water within hospitals. Most of the reports are associated with “outbreaks in the intensive care setting, affecting the critically ill and the immunocompromised,” according to a related study.

A “Staged Mode of Transmission”

The UVA team describes a “staged mode of transmission” to explain how hospital patients and staff may be exposed to superbugs. The microbes colonize the P-shaped traps, or “P traps,” of hospital sink drainpipes just below the bowl of the basin, where water pools. From there, nourished by various discarded liquids, such as intravenous fluids, feeding supplements and leftover beverages, they migrate back toward the sink at the rate of about one inch per day, moving as a growing biofilm. Biofilms are slimy mats of microorganisms that are difficult to wash away or destroy.

Based on the design of most sink plumbing, in approximately one week’s time the superbugs are present in the sink strainer area. From there, they are well-positioned to be dispersed around the sink and onto adjacent counters by water streaming from the flowing faucet. The frightening scenario culminates with the exposure of patients, who can least fight infection, to antimicrobial resistant superbugs.

Findings from the “Sink Lab”

To better study the stages of transmission of superbugs from hospital sink plumbing, the UVA research team constructed a unique “sink lab.” The lab features five identical sinks modeled after the intensive care unit (ICU) sinks in UVA’s Charlottesville hospital and connected in wastewater plumbing. A harmless form of E. coli was used as a surrogate pathogen. One significant finding from the “sinks in series” design is that the bacteria can spread through plumbing connections to neighboring sinks, demonstrating that the superbugs spread both upward and downward out of P traps.

Preventing Superbug Infections from Sink Drains

Does the design of the hospital sink and its plumbing require modification to help prevent this mode of exposure to superbugs? Is the P-shaped trap—originally designed to prevent the escape of sewer odors—an inadvertent public health risk? Ironically, the sink is often the first destination for people entering and the last stop for those leaving the ICU, as hand-washing is a well-known and strongly endorsed infection prevention control measure. Should hospital sinks be redesigned to prevent water from the faucet splashing into the drain area and casting superbugs into the ICU environment? Or can the P-shaped section of the drain be treated in a way that prevents colonization by bacteria?

Between 2011 and 2012 a superbug outbreak at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center killed 11 patients. According to an interview with Dr. Tara Palmore, a hospital epidemiologist at the Center, bleach and scrubbing helped end the outbreak. The sink traps were removed and “scrubbed out with wire brushes and bleach,” followed by daily bleach spraying down the drains. Over time, the drug-resistant bacterial colonies were removed. Yet, Palmore notes that there are some very difficult cases in which nothing seems to work.

The UVA team is now working with the CDC to understand exactly how patients may be infected with superbugs emerging from drainpipes. This will help inform the solution to the insidious problem of deadly hospital-acquired superbug infections. We congratulate the researchers on their significant work to date and eagerly await further results of their important efforts.

Barbara M. Soule, RN, MPA, CIC, FSHEA, FAPIC is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Click here to download this article.

The Secret Life of Bleach

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Chlorine bleach – that household staple usually parked in the laundry – has additional uses besides “whitening your whites”. During cold and flu season, dilute bleach solutions can be used to wipe down frequently touched surfaces to help prevent the spread of viruses and other pathogens (disease-spreading germs) among family members.

Bleach solutions also destroy bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli, common foodborne pathogens that may lurk on kitchen work surfaces. Used smartly, bleach solutions pack a powerful punch against germs that can make your family sick.

How Does Bleach Destroy Bacteria?

Several years ago, a University of Michigan research team led by Dr. Ursula Jakob, studying the effects of heat stress on bacteria, inadvertently discovered the mechanism by which bleach destroys bacteria. The short, entertaining video above, “The Secret Life of Bleach,” features creative animation that describes the mechanism of bacteria destruction.

As the video demonstrates, exposure to bleach causes proteins—which are complex, three-dimensional structures that control the life functions of bacteria—to permanently unfold, an effect that is analogous to a house collapsing. 

Bleach in Our Bodies

One of the fascinating points made in the video is that the human body produces and uses chlorine bleach internally as a natural disinfectant. White blood cells are “little bleach factories,” according to Dr. Jakob, that are activated to destroy bacteria detected inside the body, helping to fight disease. How interesting to think that the inventors of bleach probably never realized their own bodies were creating and using this substance naturally!

Thanks to Dr. Jakob and her team, we now know how bleach destroys bacteria both within us and around us. Bleach is giving up some of its age-old secrets…

Using Bleach for Household Chores*

Task Regular Strength (5.25%) Bleach in 1 Gallon of Water High Strength (8.25%) Bleach in 1 Gallon of water
Wall and floor disinfection following flooding ¾ cup ½ cup
Laundry disinfection and whitening (for a full load of laundry in a washing machine) ½ cup 1/3 cup
Disinfecting nonporous surfaces (e.g., vinyl, ceramic tile, porcelain) against norovirus (“the stomach bug”) 1 cup 3/4 cup
Disinfecting hard surfaces against flu transmission ¼ cup 2 ½ tablespoons
Disinfecting kitchen cloths 3 tablespoons 2 tablespoons
Routine disinfection of food-contact surfaces 1 tablespoon 2 teaspoons

*Table recommendations are partially based on Guidelines for Determining How Much Clorox® Concentrated to Use in Continuous Chlorination Disinfection Systems in place of Clorox® Regular and Clorox® Ultra bleach, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention

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A Fun Holiday Hand-washing Activity for Kids

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

As our families and friends gather to celebrate the holidays, we look forward to enjoying good company, delicious food and exchanging gifts. One aspect of the holidays we don’t enjoy, however, is exchanging the germ du jour.

Many adults are aware that frequent hand-washing—and hand sanitizer use in a pinch–can help avoid the “re-gifted” germs that cause colds, flu, the stomach bug (norovirus) and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that hand-washing is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, so how can we help the children in our lives practice proper hand hygiene?

The American Cleaning Institute offers a fun resource for children to “Create a colorful holiday!” with its “Clean Your Paws for Santa Claus Coloring Page.” The image caption clarifies that handwashing “with soap and warm water for 20 seconds” precedes the reward of reaching for a cookie. Why not print out a few copies and share them with the children at your holiday gathering?

Here’s wishing you Happy, Healthy Holidays!

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Handkerchief or Tissues? That is the Question!

Friday, December 9th, 2016
Whether you use a handkerchief or tissues when you are sick, leaving them out on a common surface only helps spread your germs.

Whether you use a handkerchief or tissues when you are sick, leaving them out on a common surface only helps spread your germs.

Ah-choo! How do you handle sneezes and a runny nose? Do you reach for a handkerchief or tissues? Which option is more sanitary? Which option is most environmentally responsible? How do affordability, comfort and convenience factor into your decision? More men than women may prefer handkerchiefs, but that may be changing. Rather than endorse one option over another, we provide the following analysis for your consideration.



Comparing Handkerchiefs and Tissues

Handkerchief Tissues
How Sanitary? Handkerchiefs are adequately sanitary if stored away immediately after use (e.g., in a pocket or purse), followed by the user washing his or her hands. (Exposure risk remains for the person laundering handkerchiefs.) Tissues are adequately sanitary if disposed of immediately after use, followed by the user washing his or her hands. (Exposure risk remains for the person removing trash.)
How Environmentally Responsible? Laundered handkerchiefs can be reused many times. Laundering and ironing require energy, water, detergent and sanitizer (see directions below for sanitizing with bleach). Tissues are manufactured from a renewable resource using energy, water and chemicals. Used tissues can be composted, or they enter the general waste stream.
How Comfortable and Convenient? Handkerchiefs can be purchased to please the user’s preferences in fabric and size. They can be laundered to enhance softness (e.g., with fabric softener). Portable tissue packets are available as well as a range of tissue box shapes and sizes. Tissues pre-moistened with aloe and other products are also available to help soothe irritated skin.


How to Launder Cotton or Poly/cotton Handkerchiefs

According to the Clorox website, soak chlorine-bleachable laundry in ¼ cup regular bleach per gallon of water or 3 tablespoons of concentrated bleach per gallon of water for up to 5 minutes. Rinse. Follow-up with a hot water machine wash using detergent and bleach.

Our advice is to choose the option you prefer based on the factors that mean the most to you. Whichever choice you make, help reduce the likelihood of spreading germs by staying mindful that germs go wherever nasal mucous goes. For example, blowing your nose and leaving the handkerchief or tissues in the open may infect others in your living or work space. Not washing your hands (or at least using a hand sanitizer) after blowing your nose is another way to spread your illness to others through commonly touched surfaces. What is the “life cycle” of the item used to wipe your nose? How can you minimize the risk of spreading germs through that item? It’s not rocket science, but it is worth some thought.


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What Cooking Shows Don’t Teach

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Want to know how to prepare a delicious recipe? Tune in to a TV cooking show. Just don’t expect to view some of the most important cooking steps! According to a new study1 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (abstract), today’s cooking shows are missing “an opportunity to model and teach good food safety practices for millions of viewers.” In fact, the researchers found in 39 episodes from 10 television cooking shows, the majority of episodes failed to demonstrate:

  • Proper use of utensils and gloves
  • Protection from contamination
  • Maintaining time and temperature rules

Foodborne Illness: Learn from “Maria”

How to Sanitize Kitchen Surfaces with Chlorine Bleach Solution

  1. Clean: Wash hard surfaces with hot, soapy water, then rinse with clear water.
  2. Sanitize: Apply a solution made by adding ½ tablespoon of chlorine bleach2 to ½ gallon of water. Air dry.
Bleach solutions break down over time, turning into salty water, so prepare bleach solutions daily. Never mix ammonia-containing cleaners with bleach.

Each year there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the US, including 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Foodborne illnesses, most of which are infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites, can even have long-term health consequences, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To highlight some of the most common food safety mistakes, CDC developed a series of short cooking show style videos called “Recipes for Disaster.” Viewers are invited to learn the right steps in food preparation as the fictional cook “Maria” does everything wrong. In “Contaminated Carbo Load,” for example, Maria chops vegetables on an unwashed and unsanitized cutting board that previously held raw chicken and bacon. In “Bacteria BBQ,” Maria leaves steaks marinating on the counter overnight, “just as her Nanna did.” Maria’s family and friends enjoy her cooking but hours later suffer the consequences of her cooking mistakes.

Missed Opportunities

The new study by Cohen and Olson cites a recent Harris Poll that finds “50% of consumers reported watching many of the hundreds of television cooking shows very often or occasionally.” Unfortunately, the researchers found that the percentage of shows in conformance with recommended food safety practices was much lower than that observed in restaurant employees and consumers. For example, as the authors note, fruits and vegetables are the leading sources of foodborne illness in the US, yet less than 10% of the food shows they viewed demonstrated handling produce properly. Additionally, in only 13% of episodes were food safety practices even mentioned.

Recommendations of the study authors include:

  • Food safety training for chefs and food show contestants
  • Modifying TV kitchen sets to support food safety actions, such as incorporating sinks to use for hand-washing and featuring different colored cutting boards for separate use when handling raw meats and vegetables
  • Adding food safety as a criterion in TV cooking competitions
  • Discussing food safety in cooking show scripts, such as demonstrating the proper use of food thermometers and when to change gloves or wash hands

TV cooking shows have a wonderful but underutilized opportunity to demonstrate more than the latest and greatest ways to stuff zucchini or roast a chicken. Modeling good food safety practices for millions of viewers could go a long way toward reducing foodborne illness.


Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA, FAPIC is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Click here to download this article.

1 Cohen, N.L. and Olson, R.B. (2016). “Compliance with Recommended Food Safety Practices in Television Cooking Shows,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Vol. 48, pp. 730-735.

2 Directions are for 5.25% bleach. Decrease amount of bleach to 1 teaspoon per half-gallon if using 8.25% bleach.


The Black Friday Shoppers’ Health and Safety Survival Guide

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Determined to brave the traffic, crowds and general madness of Black Friday, many shoppers strike out to take advantage of deep discounts on holiday goods. We offer tips to help ensure shoppers return home from these shopping adventures safely and in good health.

Safety First

  • As exciting as it is to get to the sales early, don’t compromise safety when driving or walking to the shops. Obey traffic and pedestrian rules—arrive alive and unharmed. Exercise extra caution driving and walking in packed parking lots.
  • Reduce your chances of being caught and injured in a stampede at “door buster” sales. It’s better to hang back or off to the side than to risk injury in a rushing crowd.

Be a Healthy Shopper

  • Be mindful that frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and electronic key pads are drop off and pick-up points for germs. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and make frequent use of portable hand sanitizer.
  • Use your knuckle instead of the pad of your finger to depress elevator keys or automatic door openers.
  • Using a public restroom? Use a clean tissue or paper towel to act as a barrier between you and the restroom door handle as you enter and exit. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow to prevent germs spreading to your fellow shoppers.
  • Did you remember to get a flu shot? The flu vaccine is recommended for all people over the age of six months, with rare exception. It’s not too late to get one now, but next year remember, “Vaccine by Halloween” for the timeliest protection against the seasonal flu. See your doctor if you have questions about the flu vaccine.
  • Stay home on Black Friday if you are sick. Considering how many people you could potentially infect in mobbed shopping centers, online bargain shopping just might be the kinder, gentler option when you are under the weather. And remember: Cyber Monday is only three days after Black Friday.
  • Recognizing that some of the best sales begin very early in the day, consider putting your egg nog down on Thanksgiving night and getting a good night’s sleep.

Happy Bargain Hunting!

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Holiday Food Safety and the Foodkeeper App

Friday, November 18th, 2016

A beautifully arranged holiday dinner table is a feast for the senses. Occasionally, however, festive fare that looks perfectly delectable can sicken unsuspecting diners. There are many ways in which the “perfect” holiday dinner can go horribly wrong. Fortunately, most foodborne illness can be avoided when cooks maintain and apply a keen awareness of the basics of food safety. Add to that a new “app” issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and safe food storage and preparation can be a snap this holiday season.

Food Safety Basics

“Clean” starts with the cooks washing their hands with soap and warm water before and after handling any food item (not just raw animal or vegetable products). Food preparation surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops, should be thoroughly washed with soap and hot water, followed by sanitizing with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Air-dry.

“Separate” foods so that juices from raw meats, poultry and seafood, which can contain harmful bacteria, do not contact ready-to-eat food. Place raw meats, poultry and seafood in plastic bags in the refrigerator to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food. To lower the risk of accidental dripping, place those plastic bags on the lowest shelves of the refrigerator.

Designate one cutting board for raw fruits and vegetables and another for raw meats, poultry and seafood.

Never place cooked food back on the same plate that previously held raw food unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water.

“Cook” foods to safe minimum internal temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria. The food thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the food, away from bone, fat or gristle. According to the website, poultry, including chicken, turkey, duck and goose, should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

“Chill” foods that should be refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below. Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator, microwave or cold water. Do not leave food at room temperature for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour when the air temperature is 90 degrees F or more). Meat defrosted in the refrigerator is safe to re-freeze before or after cooking. Foods defrosted in the microwave or cold water must be cooked before freezing. Store eggs in the refrigerator in their original carton and use within three to five weeks.

An App for the Kitchen

The new “Foodkeeper” app, developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute, was designed to help consumers understand and optimize food and beverage storage. The app is available for Android and Apple devices.

Here is a sampling of the type of information available through the Foodkeeper app:

  • Cooked poultry dishes (e.g., turkey and chicken) last 3 to 4 days when stored in the refrigerator and 4 to 6 months if stored frozen. Poultry should be cooked in an oven to a safe minimum temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • Fresh potatoes last 1 to 2 months in the pantry (the recommended storage method for whole potatoes) and 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator (refrigerating potatoes is not recommended as potatoes may darken during cooking and develop an unpleasantly sweet taste1 )
  • Bagged greens, such as spinach and lettuce, last 3 to 5 days after the date on the bag when stored in the refrigerator, and 2 days if refrigerated after opening. Freezing bagged greens is not recommended.
  • Hard cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss and block parmesan last 6 months in the refrigerator before opening, and 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator after opening, but 6 months if stored frozen.
  • Ready to Bake Pie Crust should be used by the date indicated on the package when stored in the refrigerator, but can last up to 2 months if stored in the freezer.
  • Whipped, sweetened cream lasts 1 day when stored in the refrigerator and 1 to 2 months if stored frozen.
  • Fruit juice and punch in cartons last 3 weeks in the pantry, 7 to 12 days in the pantry if stored after opening, and 8 to 12 days if refrigerated after opening.

Keep the four food safety basics in mind as you gear up for holiday cooking. And remember the Foodkeeper app, which can help you decide on the usability of ingredients. Finally, trust your instincts: If a food or drink looks suspect, follow the old adage, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Here’s wishing you a happy and safe Holiday Season!

Linda F. Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council.

Click here to download this article.

1 The recommendation not to refrigerate potatoes comes from the United States Potato Board.


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