Reducing the risk of foodborne illness for consumers is the primary focus of the Fogiene Sciences. One in five Indians get a foodborne illness each year. As a NABL Lab dedicated to food safety, we can support consumers with actions they can take to reduce cross-contamination and to handle food in a way that helps them manage risk of germs.
Food waste is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. Sometimes in food safety education we encourage food to be discarded uneaten if it can pose a health risk to a consumer. Food waste is a huge challenge to our natural resources, our environment, and our pocketbooks.
Q: What is the connection between food waste and food safety?
Food waste by consumers can result from fears about food safety. Some of these fears relate to misunderstandings about what food product dating actually means. Also, consumers can be uncertain about how to store perishable foods.
Q: What are the basics of understanding food product dating?
Producers of perishable food use dates to help ensure that consumers buy or use them while the products are at what the producers consider their best quality.
- Sell by date indicates that a product should not be sold after that date if the buyer is to have it at its best quality.
- Use by date or Best by date is the maker’s estimate of how long a product will keep at its best quality.
These are quality dates only, not safety dates. If stored properly, a food product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality after its Use by or Best by date.
Q: What are some practical grocery shopping and eating tips that can help consumers manage their food at home?
First of all, don’t buy more perishable food than you can reasonably consume before it reaches its maximum storage time. Plan your meals and use shopping lists. Think about what you are buying and when it will be eaten or used. Before you shop, check your fridge and pantry to avoid buying an item that you already have.
Also, avoid impulse and bulk purchases, especially fresh produce and dairy that have limited shelf life. Promotions encouraging purchase of unusual or bulk products often result in consumers buying foods outside their typical needs or family preferences. These foods may end up being thrown away.
Lastly, when eating out, become a more mindful eater. If you’re not terribly hungry, request smaller portions. Bring your leftovers home and refrigerate or freeze them within two hours.
Q: Potential for waste of these foods is high for perishable foods. What are the most important tips around storing perishables?
Here are a few important tips on storing of perishable foods so that you can avoid food waste. Make sure the temperature of your refrigerator is at or below 40° F. This will ensure perishables are stored safely. Next, avoid “over packing” your fridge. Cold air must circulate around refrigerated foods to keep them properly chilled. Wipe up spills in your refrigerator immediately. This action will reduce the risk of cross contamination where bacteria from one food get spread to other foods in your refrigerator. Finally, check your fridge often to keep track of what you have and what needs to be reheated and eaten or put in the freezer for later use. Leftovers should be used within 3-4 days. You can avoid wasting food by planning to eat these leftovers within the 3-4 days.
Q: What’s the difference between spoilage bacteria and the bacteria that can cause a foodborne illness?
Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food. However, if they did, they probably would not get sick. Spoilage bacteria can cause fruits and vegetables to get mushy or slimy, or meat to develop a bad odor, but they do not generally make you sick. Pathogenic bacteria cause illness. They grow rapidly in the Danger Zone-the temperatures between 40 °F (4.4 °C) and 140 °F (60 °C) and do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food. Food that is left too long at unsafe temperatures could be dangerous to eat, but smell and look just fine.