Monday, September 26, 2011

Safe in your own kitchen

          So you tested your food safety habits in last Thursday’s quiz, and I’m guessing that since you’re reading this article, it means that you didn’t score so well! It’s no big deal. The purpose of this post is to explain why it is important to adopt safe food practices and how you can do it. We will take a tour around your kitchen and give you tips on how to avoid possible contamination.

Why is food safety important?

Food can provide ideal conditions for bacteria to multiply and produce toxins. In fact, three conditions are necessary for disease-causing bacteria to thrive: nutrients, water or moisture and warmth (temperature between 4 and 60°C).
Good food handling and storage is crucial to prevent foodborne illnesses or in other terms food poisoning. The truth is, any food or beverage contaminated with a bacteria, parasite or virus can generate symptoms that range from an upset stomach to more serious symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and dehydration. The most vulnerable to foodborne illnesses are pregnant women, newborns, infants and toddlers, older adults and people with a weakened immune system (cancer patients, AIDS, etc.).
Some people think that these illnesses are very rare; however, 1 in every 6 Americans gets sick from food poisoning every year. This problem is more serious than many people realize. Yet, very simple steps can help prevent it and keep the entire family safe!

Safe food practices around the kitchen

Let's take a tour around your kitchen. Each number and color corresponds to a specific area in your kitchen. We will reveal the tips regarding each one during this week.

1. Washing

a. Wash your hands properly

You should wash your hands:
- before, during and after food preparation
- before eating
- after using the bathroom
- after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- after touching your hair
- after handling animals or their waste
- after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, fish and poultry or their juices
- after touching garbage
- when caring for a sick person

There’s also a specific way for washing your hands. Check image to the right.

b. Wash surfaces and utensils after each use

Clean utensils by putting them in a dishwasher or using soap and hot water.
Wash surfaces and cutting boards after each use by flooding the surface with bleach and letting it stand for 10 minutes then rinsing with clean water. Air-dry them or use fresh paper towels.
Use a microwave to kill microbes on sponges. Place a WET sponge in the microwave oven and heat it. Dry sponges may catch on fire!!

c. Wash fruits and vegetables

Even if you plan to peel fruits and vegetables, it is important you wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them. Also, use a disinfectant rather than just soap.

d. Do not wash meat, poultry and eggs

Washing raw meat and poultry can actually help spread bacteria because their juices may splash onto your sink and countertop.
All commercial eggs are washed. Any extra handling of the eggs can increase risk of cross contamination especially if the shell is cracked.

2. The Refrigerator (Storing)
! cold temperatures slow the proliferation of bacteria

a. Temperature
The fridge temperature should be between 0 and 4°C.
The freezer’s temperature should be below 0.

b. Do not over stuff your fridge
Cold air must be allowed to circulate freely in your fridge.

c. Get perishable food in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours and in summer within 1 hour.

d. Store leftovers within 2 hours
By dividing leftovers into several, clean, shallow containers, you’ll allow them to chill faster.

e. Meat, poultry and seafood
- Keep them separate from all other foods in the fridge: They should be placed in containers or sealed plastic bags in the bottom shelf of the fridge in order to prevent their juices from leaking onto other foods.
- Store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the refrigerator's meat bin.
- Use fresh, raw meat stored in the refrigerator within three to four days of purchase.
- Throw away ground meat, sausage and organ meat after two days.

f. Eggs
- Store them in their original packaging in the coldest part of the fridge: Do not use the pre-made egg cups in door where eggs are susceptible to warmer air from the door opening and closing.
- Do not keep them for more than 3 weeks in the refrigerator
- Hard boiled eggs can last a week in the refrigerator, in or out of the shell.

g. Milk and dairy products
Never store milk in the refrigerator door where it is susceptible to warmer air from the door opening and closing.
- Tightly wrap cheese and place back in the refrigerator after opening.
- Remove mold from hard cheese by cutting a one-inch square around it; the rest is safe to eat.
- Discard entire package of soft or shredded cheese if mold is present.

3. The Counter
         Never thaw or marinate food on the counter
Bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. Therefore, thawing or marinating foods on the counter is one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family. You can thaw in:

- The refrigerator 24h earlier
- Cold water: submerge frozen package and change water every 30 minutes. If you’re using this technique, you must cook food immediately.
- Microwave: also cook immediately.

You can also cook food without thawing. It is safer but it will take 50% more time to prepare.

Marinate meat in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

Do not re-freeze thawed meat!

4. Garbage
a. Know when to throw your food
Any food with an “off” appearance or odor should be thrown away, of course, and not even tasted. However, you cannot rely on your sense of smell, taste, and sight to warn you because most hazards are not detectable by odor, taste or appearance. As the old saying goes “when in doubt, throw it out”. You can also check the Safe Storage Times Chart.

b. Produce:
- Discard cooked vegetables after 3 or 4 days
- Throw away cut produce left at room temperature for more than 2 hours
- Remove and discard outer leaves of lettuce

c. Milk and Dairy products
- Discard all milk after the container has been opened one week, regardless of the "sell-by" date.
- Use yogurt within seven to 10 days after buying it.
- Ice cream can last for two to four months.
- Hard cheese, like cheddar, Gouda, Edam and Swiss, can last for three to four weeks. It is okay to freeze hard cheese, but texture and taste may suffer.
- Softer cheeses have a shorter shelf life:
  • Ricotta cheese: five days.
  • Cream cheese: two weeks.
  • Cottage cheese: 10 to 30 days. 
After opening, processed cheese spread lasts for three to four weeks.

5. Cooking
The danger zone is between 4 and 60°C
a. Use a thermometer
Color and texture of food are not sufficient indicators of whether a food is done and the bacteria killed. A thermometer is needed to check if you have reached the right temperature which is above 60°C.

b. Keep food hot after cooking
The possibility of bacterial growth increases as food cools after cooking. Use a warming tray in order to keep your food above 60°C.

c. Microwave food thoroughly
- Heat your food till it reached around 75°C.
- When you microwave your food, you notice that a part of the dish is very hot whereas the other part is cold. That’s why you should stir your food in the middle of heating.
- Let the food rest for a couple of minutes if stated on the label. It could be a crucial moment to prevent disease.

d. Eggs
- Whether you’re boiling, frying or scrambling eggs, make sure the yolks and whites are firm and not runny.
- Never eat raw eggs such as in cookie dough or cake batter.
- When a recipe calls for raw eggs such as Caesar salad dressing, use a liquid pasteurized egg substitute instead.

6. Separating
a. Use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and meat, poultry, eggs and seafood
Use one cutting board for fresh produce and another one for raw meat, poultry or seafood. And when it becomes excessively worn or develops hard-to-clean grooves, considering replacing it.

b. Keep raw meat, poultry, sea food and eggs separate from all other foods in the grocery
Whether in the shopping cart or plastic bags, separate raw meat, poultry, sea food and eggs from other fresh foods to keep their juices from dripping on those foods.

c. Cooked and raw food
When the food is cooked, the bacteria is killed. However, if you place it back in the previous container, it can be contaminated.

          The entire Lebanese population has become more aware of food safety nowadays. Health professionals, the government and even TV shows are dealing with this issue. However, everyone seems to forget about the food safety in our own houses and more particularly in our own kitchens. So let’s start there and I’m sure we can decrease a large number of food poisoning incidents.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Are you safe in your own kitchen?

Here's a food-safety quiz. Go for it and check your answers. Your total score should tell you how safe your are in your own kitchen!

1. The temperature of the refrigerator in my home is:
   a. 10°C
   b. 4°C
   c. I don’t know; I don’t own a refrigerator thermometer

2. The last time we had a leftover cooked stew or other meaty food, the food was:
   a. Cooled to room temperature, then, put in the refrigerator.
   b. Put in the refrigerator immediately after the food was served.
   c. Left at room temperature overnight or longer

3. If I use a cutting board to cut raw meat, poultry or fish and it will be used to chop another food, the board is:
   a. Reused as it is
   b. Wiped with a damp cloth or sponge
   c. Washed with soap and water
   d. Washed with soap and hot water and then sanitized

4. The last time I had a hamburger, I ate it:
   a. Rare
   b. Medium
   c. Well-done

5. The last time there was a cookie dough where I live, the dough was:
   a. Made with raw eggs, and I sampled some of it
   b. Store-bought, and I sampled some of it
   c. Not sampled until baked

6. I clean my kitchen counters and food preparation areas with:
   a. A damp sponge that I rinse and reuse
   b. A clean sponge or cloth and water
   c. A clean cloth with hot water and soap
   d. The same as above, then a bleach solution or other sanitizer

7. When dishes are washed in my home, they are:
   a. Cleaned by an automatic dishwasher and then air-dried
   b. Left to soak in the sink for several hours and then washed with soap in the same water
   c. Washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and then air-dried
   d. Washed right away with hot water and soap in the sink and immediately towel dried

8. The last time I handled raw meat, poultry or fish, I cleaned my hands afterwards by:
   a. Wiping them on a towel
   b. Rinsing them under warm tap water
   c. Washing with soap and water

9. Meat. Poultry and fish products are defrosted in my home by:
   a. Setting them on the counter
   b. Placing them in the refrigerator
   c. Microwaving and cooking promptly when thawed
   d. Soaking them in warm water

10. I realize that eating raw seafood poses special problems for people with:
   a. Diabetes
   b. HIV infection
   c. Cancer
   d. Liver disease




Give yourself the adequate points for each answer you have given. 

If your total score is:

11 points or below: Take steps immediately to correct food-handling, storage, and cooking techniques used in your home. Current practices are putting you and other members of your household in danger of foodborne illnesses. 

12 to 19 points: Reexamine food safety practices in your home. Some key rules are being violated. 

20 points: Feel confident about the safety of foods served in your home. 

Reference: Nutrition Concepts and Controversies, Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney, 12th Edition


Monday, September 19, 2011


Having babies is every woman’s dream!
Dealing with the pregnancy is every woman’s nightmare!

Pregnancy comes with panic. A lot of questions are asked “Am I gaining too much weight?”, “Am I eating a lot?”, “Am I not eating enough?”, “How will I lose all those kilos?”, etc. In this article, I have tried to answer the most frequently asked questions about pregnancy. Here they are…

How much calories should I eat?

There’s a tendency in women to think that when you’re pregnant, you have to eat for 2 people. This is absolutely wrong! You have to increase your calorie intake; however, you should NOT double it! And here’s the first reason why women gain weight excessively. Believe it or not: you don’t need any additional calories during the first trimester. It is only during the second that you increase your intake of 340 calories. Then, during the third, you add an additional 110 calories. Those demands should be met by nutrient dense foods. Choose foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Go for low fat milk and dairy products, fruits, vegetables, cereals and legumes.

Are there nutrients of special interest?

Special attention should be given to Vitamins B9, B12, D, calcium, iron and zinc.

Even before getting pregnant, women should obtain 400 micrograms of vitamin B9 or folate daily, either from supplements or fortified foods (fortified cereals) IN ADDITION to eating folate-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, asparagus, etc. In fact, this vitamin plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects in babies which may lead to paralysis.

Pregnant women also need a greater amount of vitamin B12 to assist folate in the manufacture of new cells. Women who exclude animal foods from their diet should obtain Vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods.

Calcium and vitamin D: They are involved in building the skeleton. Any deficiency may produce abnormal fetal bone development. Regular exposure to sunlight and consumption of vitamin D fortified milk should be sufficient to provide the recommended amount of vitamin D during pregnancy.
If calcium intake is adequate, no supplementation is needed. In fact, during early pregnancy, calcium absorption doubles and the mineral is stored in the mother’s bones. It is then used in the third trimester. So have 3 servings of calcium rich foods everyday and you’ll be sure to cover your needs.

Iron intake should be increased for several reasons:
-          Increased blood volume to provide for placental and fetal needs.
-          Inevitable blood losses at birth especially if the delivery is a C-section.
Consume adequate amounts of meat and legumes. Add lemon juice to legumes in order to enhance iron absorption. If you must have tea and coffee, try to keep them away from meals so that they don’t interfere with iron absorption. Ask your doctor if a supplementation is needed.

Zinc is vital for protein synthesis and cell development during pregnancy. It is abundant in meat, nuts and shellfish. Zinc supplementation is not usually advised.

How much weight am I supposed to gain?

The ideal weight gain pattern for a woman who started pregnancy at a healthy weight is around 1.5 kilos during the first trimester and 0.5 kilos/week thereafter.

Recommended weight gain
Prepregnancy weight
For single birth
For twin birth
Underweight (BMI<18.5)
12.5 to 18 kg
Insufficient data to make recommendations
Healthy weight (18.5<BMI<24.9)
11.5 to 16 kg
17 to 25 kg
Overweight (25<BMI<29.9)
7 to 11.5 kg
14 to 23 kg
Obese (BMI>30)
5 to 9 kg
11 to 19 kg

No dieting is recommended during pregnancy! You can avoid excessive weight gain but you should not engage in a weight loss program.

How can I remove the weight gained?

Normal women get rid of most of the weight gain:
- During delivery
- In the following weeks when blood volume returns to normal and accumulated fluids are eliminated
- Breastfeeding: believe it or not, breastfeeding helps remove the weight gained during pregnancy.
There is no doubt that some women keep a few kilos from pregnancy and might not return to their pre-pregnancy weight. However, with the right diet and physical activity, anything can be achieved.

Should I exercise during pregnancy?

If you’re already physically active, you can and should continue exercising throughout pregnancy, adjusting intensity and duration as the pregnancy progresses. Staying active during the course of a normal and healthy pregnancy improves the fitness of a mother-to-be, facilitates labor and reduces psychological stress. Of course, you should avoid activities that might induce falling or hurting yourself.

Why do we crave certain foods?

Food cravings and aversions that arise during pregnancy are probably due to hormone-induced changes in taste and sensitivities to smells, and they quickly disappear after birth. They have nothing to do with a need in certain nutrients.

What are the things I should avoid?

- Smoking: it can have many consequences on fetal development and may lead to fetal death
- Drugs
- Alcohol: it limits oxygen delivery to the fetus, slows cell division and reduces the number of cells organs produce.
- Artificial sweeteners: their effect during pregnancy is still being studied, that’s why it is best to avoid them.
- Large fish: the larger the fish, the more it contains mercury which can harm the developing fetal brain and nervous system. Avoid eating shark, king mackerel and swordfish. Limit average weekly consumption to 12 ounces of seafood or 6 ounces of tuna.
- Raw meat and fish: sushi and rare or undercooked meat should be avoided as they may contain bacteria that can only be eliminated by submitting food to a high temperature.
- Raw eggs: it should be avoided as it can be contaminated with Salmonella. Avoid Caesar dressing and mayonnaise.
- Unpasteurized milk: It may contain a bacteria called listeria that induces a miscarriage. Make sure the milk you’re drinking is pasteurized.
- Unwashed vegetables: vegetables are very important in your diet. However, you should wash them very well to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis.

It may seem hard to follow all those instructions and care for every detail. But believe me, it’s not. I’ve never tried pregnancy (:P) but I’ve heard it’s quite amazing! If you have any more questions regarding the matter, don’t hesitate to ask!