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USDA Food Safety Tips for Reducing Food Waste and Preventing Illness

USDA Food Safety Tips for Reducing Food Waste and Preventing Illness

By: Adam Ghering, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

As Earth Day approaches did you know USDA has an app that can help you save money and help the environment? Or that there are some simple steps you can take in the kitchen to help you serve safer food, and they’ll also help you reduce resource use and utility bills? This spring, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations to help consumers reduce foodborne illness, resource use, and unnecessary spending for Earth Day.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimates that the leading 15 foodborne pathogens cause the United States economy more than $15 billion dollars annually, due to an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. What’s more, ERS estimates that 133 billion pounds of food in the available food supply goes uneaten each year.  The estimated value of this food loss is $161 billion using retail prices. Simple actions such as cleaning your oven, allowing your refrigerator to properly circulate air, and downloading the free FoodKeeper app can help you reduce your risk of foodborne illness, your impact on the environment, and the price of your bills.

The FoodKeeper

The birthdate of a family member may stick in your mind, but are you able to remember when you bought all the items in your refrigerator? Every year, billions of pounds of food go to waste in the U.S. because consumers are not sure of its quality or safety. Last year USDA launched the FoodKeeper app to help combat this issue. The FoodKeeper is available for Apple and Android devices, and allows users to set up automatic notifications when foods and beverages are nearing the end of their recommended storage date.

By helping users understand how items should be stored in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, the application empowers consumers to choose storage methods that extend the shelf life of their items. It offers valuable advice about more than 400 food and beverage items, including various types of baby food, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and more. Cooking advice is also offered to ensure users prepare products in ways that eliminate foodborne bacteria.

Your Refrigerator

Your refrigerator is your first lines of defense in the fight against foodborne illness. Keeping items below 40 ˚F reduces the growth of illness causing pathogens, and helps to keep items fresher, longer. But if your refrigerator is over packed, it can cause problems for both your health and your wallet.

An over-packed refrigerator cannot properly circulate air, meaning some storage zones may not be keeping proper temperature. This can increase your risk of illness, and cause your refrigerator’s motor to run constantly, increasing utility bills.

Don’t stack foods tightly or cover refrigerator shelves with any material that prevents air circulation from quickly and evenly cooling stored items. Leave at least an inch on all sides of items for cold air to circulate around them, and be sure not to block air vents. To check the temperature of your fridge, place an appliance thermometer at its warmest location, generally the middle of the door and wait 5 to 8 hours. If the temperature is above 40 °F, adjust the temperature control down. Check again after 5 to 8 hours, and repeat as necessary until your refrigerator is at a safe temperature.

Lastly, your kitchen is a high-traffic area where dust accumulates quickly. The front grill of your refrigerator should be kept free of dust and lint to permit free airflow to the unit’s condenser.

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Cooking

Cooking food to a safe internal temperature is the only way to destroy bacteria and other pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.

  • Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to 160 °F.
  • All poultry should be cooked to 165 °F.

In addition to offering health benefits, using a food thermometer can prevent overcooking. When using the oven or burners, make sure heating surfaces are clear of food debris. This will ensure an even distribution of energy for optimal heating, also reducing energy costs.

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