It feels like eating, or making choices about what to eat, is getting harder. Since I started reading books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (read our interview with him here) and watching movies like Food, Inc. (just released on DVD) that explore how our food system works from farms to our tables, I have a lot more to think about than just taste. Now before I take a bite, I consider where the food was grown and if the farmer used pesticides or hormones, among other concerns.
Recently I’ve started to worry about food safety too. Just this week I read a new Consumer Reports article article that found that two-thirds of the chickens they bought at the supermarket and tested had salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne illness. As bad as that sounds, these results are actually a modest improvement over the tests the organization did in 2007.
What’s it going to take for us to make our food supply safer? We polled some of the country’s leading food experts to find out what they think we can do to improve our food system, including Marion Nestle, author and professor at New York University, and Bill Marler, an attorney and food safety advocate.
Many pointed to system-wide changes, like revamping regulations and production practices in the meat and poultry industry, a suggestion from Catherine Donnelly, Ph.D,. professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont and an expert on Listeria.
While our food systems are not perfect, and improving them will take time, there are things you can do right now to make your food safer. For starters, we should all be following these 10 Kitchen Rules to Keep Your Food Safe at home.(How many do you break?) Take our poll and find out how safe your kitchen habits are.
In light of this news about chicken, here are three things I’m going to make sure I do to keep my food safer.• Buy organic. While organic doesn’t guarantee a clean bird, in the case of the Consumer Reports chicken test among the cleanest overall were organic, air-chilled broilers. (Air chilling is a process in which the chickens are refrigerated and may be misted, rather than dunked in cold chlorinated water.) They found 60 percent of air-chilled birds had no bacteria. Find out what to look for when you’re buying organic chicken with our Green Choices Poultry Shopping Guide.
• Always cook meat to proper temperatures, using a calibrated instant-read thermometer to make sure. Checking the internal temperature of meat, poultry and egg dishes is one effective way to prevent illness. Safe Cooking Guidelines for Meat, Poultry, Fish and Eggs.
• Always use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/fish and produce/cooked foods. This way you can prevent raw chicken or its juices from touching any other food. Bacteria from uncooked meat, poultry and fish can contaminate cooked foods and fresh produce. A simple way to reduce this risk is to use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/fish and produce/cooked foods. Find out which color-coded cutting boards EatingWell’s Test Kitchen cooks recommend.
What do you look for when buying chicken? Tell us what you think below.