Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Nestle is a prize-winning author of the “Food Matters” column for the San Francisco Chronicle and of four books, all published by the University of California Press: Food Politics (2007) Safe Food (2003), What to Eat (2006) and, Pet Food Politics (2008). Nestle blogs regularly at www.foodpolitics.com and for TheAtlantic.com.
What is the single most important thing that can be done (by food growers, producers, government, consumers – any, or all of the above) to improve food safety in the United States?
M.N.: We don’t have a food safety system in this country, so step one would be to create one. Combining the current food safety features of the USDA and the FDA, this food agency would oversee the production of all foods with science-based food safety procedures. This would include, most notably, pathogen reduction and HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, a system that predicts possible problems in the flow of production and takes steps to prevent them from occurring).
Marion Nestle tells us whether she abides by the following food safety recommendations.
A note from Marion Nestle: Please note, I am trained in food safety and microbiology and have a pretty good feel for what is safe and what is not. The suggestions you make here are extremely conservative. One reason why nobody follows them is that mostly you don’t have to. Most bacteria don’t grow or are killed at lower temperatures than those recommended to be absolutely safe.
1. I use a “refrigerator thermometer” to keep my food stored at a safe temperature (below 40°F).
M.N.: No. I live in a tiny apartment in New York and have a small refrigerator. Nothing stays in it that long.
2. I always defrost food in the refrigerator, the microwave or in cold water, never on the counter.
M.N.: Not exactly. I don’t have much counter space so I’m most likely to leave it out in a bowl.
3. I always use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/fish and produce/cooked foods.
M.N.: No. I wash the one I have in between [uses].
4. I always cook meat to proper temperatures, using a calibrated instant-read thermometer to make sure.
M.N..: I cook it hot enough but don’t use a thermometer.
5. I avoid unpasteurized (“raw”) milk and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk that are aged less than 60 days.
M.N.: Not always. If I know the supplier, I’ll take the small risk.
6. I never eat “runny” eggs or foods, such as cookie dough, that contain raw eggs.
M.N.: Don’t be silly. I’m human.
7. I always wash my hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before handling food and after touching raw meat, poultry or eggs.
M.N.: Wash hands, yes, but I don’t count seconds.
8. I always heat leftover foods to 165ºF.
M.N.: I get them steaming hot, but don’t measure.
9. I never eat meat, poultry, eggs or sliced fresh fruits and vegetables that have been left out for more than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures hotter than 90°F).
M.N.: You don’t say whether these are cooked or uncooked or what the ambient temperature might be. Microbial growth rates depend on those factors.
10. Whenever there’s a food recall, I check products stored at home to make sure they are safe.
M.N.: I’ve never had a product involved in a recall except the can of recalled pet food given to me as a research gift for my book, Pet Food Politics.