Protecting the Food Supply

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
food supply

Teun van den Dries/iStock/Thinkstock

Enjoying food, especially with family and friends, is one of the joys of life. Food and water sustain us and nourish the body, allowing us to grow and be active and healthy. Access to a safe food and water supply is a priority. So how do we keep food safe?

How our food and water supply is protected

The food industry is responsible for producing safe food. Government agencies are responsible for setting food safety standards, conducting inspections and ensuring standards are met. They also maintain a strong enforcement program to deal with those who don’t meet these standards.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was established in 2011, enabling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system. The FSMA has been able to do this by setting up standards for produce safety, product tracing abilities, and third party certification for imported food.

Food safety affects everyone, and although the United States' food and water system has many protections in place, food safety continues to be a public health concern. Each year, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans is sickened by food poisoning. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many cases of foodborne illness could be prevented if people handled food properly.

What you can do to keep food safe

Safely handling food means more than just washing your hands before you eat. Follow these additional steps to help reduce your risk of food poisoning when shopping and preparing food:

  • Wash your hands and clean surfaces often. Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including on your hands, utensils and cutting boards. Unless you wash each the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family.
  • Wash produce before use. Fruits and vegetables (with or without peels) should be washed with clean running water. Soap, bleach or commercial cleaning products should never be used when washing fresh produce. And avoid washing raw meat, poultry and seafood– it only increases the risk of cross contamination.
  • Separate to avoid cross-contamination. Even after you've washed your hands and cleaned all surfaces - raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods, unless you keep them separate. When juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods like bread and vegetables, cross-contamination occurs. Keep raw and cooked foods separate before, during and after preparation. Use separate plates, knives, cutting boards and other utensils and wash them with hot water and soap after every use.
  • Cook foods to the right internal temperature and use a food thermometer. Many people think they can tell when food is "done" simply by checking its color and texture, but a food thermometer can tell when a food has reached the proper minimum internal temperature, which kills harmful pathogens.
  • Refrigerate perishable foods promptly at 40°F or below. By refrigerating foods promptly and properly, you can help keep food safe by slowing the growth of harmful bacteria. Any foods that are left out at room temperature for two hours or more should be thrown out, and after one hour if the air temperatures is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

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