Meatless Monday: Prep safely at home
Eating less meat is good for your health and the health of the environment, which may be one reason Meatless Monday is catching on so quickly in the US and around the world. The recent recall of ground turkey due to possible salmonella contamination is alarming. If you participate in Meatless Monday, you may still enjoy meat-based meals throughout the week. Help keep yourself and your loved ones safe from foodborne illnesses with simple food prep steps to always follow.
You've probably heard the news about the recent salmonella outbreak (and product recall) linked to ground turkey. The events surrounding the outbreak and recall are scary, but you don't have to swear off meat because of it. However, your efforts to keep informed and educated about food preparation -- particularly for meats -- can help you stay healthy and safe.
Reduce your consumption
Studies show that cutting back on meat is good for your health and the health of the environment. For example, replacing saturated fat-rich foods (like meat) with foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (nuts, vegetable oil, seeds) can reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also reduce water usage. Consider that anywhere from 1,800-2,500 gallons of water go into producing a pound of beef vs. 220 gallons of water for a pound of tofu.
The deets about foodborne diseases
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), foodborne illnesses take hold after eating food (or drinks) contaminated with bacteria (like salmonella), parasites or viruses, but can also be cased by harmful chemicals if they have contaminated food during harvesting or processing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, each year, roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick from foodborne diseases, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die from foodborne diseases.
Steps to stay safe in your kitchen
When you do eat meat take steps at home to help ensure it's a safe experience. The following tips from the National Institute of Health (NIH) are just some ways to help prevent harmful bacteria from growing in food. Read the NIH's entire list.
- Refrigerate foods promptly. If prepared food stands at room temperature for more than two hours, it may not be safe to eat. Set your refrigerator at 40°F or lower and your freezer at 0°F.
- Cook food to the appropriate internal temperature. 145°F for roasts, steaks, and chops of beef, veal, and lamb; 160°F for pork, ground veal, and ground beef; 165°F for ground poultry; and 180°F for whole poultry. Use a meat thermometer to be sure. Foods are properly cooked only when they are heated long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause illnesses.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Bacteria can spread from one food product to another throughout the kitchen and can get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and countertops. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from all ready-to-eat foods.
- Wash sponges and dish towels weekly in hot water in the washing machine.
- Keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
- Never defrost food on the kitchen counter. Use the refrigerator, cold running water, or the microwave oven.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
Sometimes, even your best efforts are not enough to prevent illness. Consider the Mayo Clinic's list of possible signs of salmonella infection (which can last from four to seven days):
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pains
- Blood in the stool
Cutting back on red and processed meats can help curb several health concerns affecting many people today. With so many delicious meat-free meal options available, cutting back is the easy part!