Have You Ever Wondered J

  • how much you need to worry about mayonnaise in picnic foods and brown-bag lunches? Mayonnaise is a perishable spread, so it must stay chilled. Homemade mayonnaise, made with uncooked eggs, is potentially more hazardous than its commercial counterpart and isn't considered appropriate for people at high risk. Commercial mayonnaise and salad dressings, made with pasteurized ingredients, also contain salt and more acid, which slow bacteria growth. In unrefrigerated mayonnaise-based salads such as chicken, tuna, or egg salad, it's usually not the mayonnaise that poses the risk but the chicken, tuna, or eggs. . . . if fish you catch are safe to eat? About 20 percent of fish eaten in the United States are caught for personal use. They're okay if caught in safe waters. However, seafood toxins, which occur naturally in some waters, and fish contaminated by chemicals in the water pose health risks. Check with authorities from your local and state health department, state fishery agency, or Sea Grant office for a current safety status. Follow advisories.
  • how food irradiation affects food safety? Food irradiation breaks down the DNA molecules in harmful organisms such as Salmonella, E. coli, and other foodborne bacteria. In that way it can dramatically reduce or eliminate disease-causing bacteria and other harmful bacteria, and so reduce or prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. With that in mind, you still need to handle food properly to keep it safe to eat. See "Irradiated Foods: Safe to Eat? in chapter 9.

twenty-four hours! Why the exponential leap? Under the right conditions, bacteria double in number every twenty to thirty minutes.

Even with so many, you can't see bacteria without a microscope. Unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, you can't taste or smell most bacteria. Yet they live everywhere—in many foods, on your skin, under your fingernails, on other surfaces, and on pets and other live animals. Foods of animal origin—raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, raw (unpasteurized) milk— are the most common food sources of bacteria. Although less common, harmful bacteria also can be transferred to fresh produce, perhaps through contaminated water or soil residue.

Because they're everywhere, you can't avoid harmful bacteria completely. Fortunately, from a food safety standpoint, most adults don't need to worry about harmful bacteria—at least not in small numbers. Your body can handle small amounts with no threat to your health. However, you are at risk for foodborne illness when bacteria multiply to very large numbers—which can happen when you mishandle food. Caution: Young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people whose immune systems don't function normally are at greater risk, even for small amounts of harmful bacteria.

To survive and multiply, bacteria need time and the right conditions: food, moisture, and warm temperature. Many need oxygen, too. Bacteria thrive on protein. Foods with protein—meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk—offer the medium for bacteria to grow. The ideal temperatures for bacterial growth are between 40° F and 140° F. Above 160° F, heat destroys bacteria. Refrigerating foods below 40° F slows their growth. Freezing stops but doesn't kill bacteria. Check "The Danger Zone " on page 282.

Mishandling food—improper preparation, cooking, or storage—is the culprit action that allows bacteria to grow and multiply in your kitchen. With its rich supply of nutrients and often moist quality, food offers the perfect medium for bacteria to grow in.

Most bacteria won't harm you. Some, such as those used to make yogurt, some cheeses, and vinegar, are helpful. Yet harmful bacteria are the main sources of foodborne illness in the United States. That's why keeping bacteria under control is so vital to your health.

The Danger Zone

Effects of temperature (°F) on growth of bacteria in food. The most dangerous zone of temperature is between 40° and 140° F.

Canning temperatures for low-acid vegetables, meat, and poultry in pressure cooker

Canning temperatures for fruits, tomatoes, and pickles in water-bath container

Low cooking and holding temperatures prevent bacterial growth, but allow some bacteria to live.

High temperatures destroy most bacteria. It takes less and less time to kill bacteria as temperature rises.

Many bacteria survive; some will grow.


Refrigerator temperatures permit slow growth of some spoilage bacteria.

Rapid growth of bacteria; some will produce toxin.

Some growth of food poisoning bacteria

Some bacteria survive but no growth occurs.

If you suspect that food is contaminated, don't even taste it! You can't see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Securely wrap the suspected food, and discard it where neither humans nor animals can get at it.

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