The Savvy Seven – Top 7 Tips to Protect Your Plate
Pesticides. Pathogens. Parasites. Pink Slime. Compounded by food recalls, outbreaks and fatalities making regular headlines, it’s enough to make a Fit Foodie lose her lunch.
If stories of the very sustenance that’s supposed to be good for us end in a stomach-turning scarytale, then are we doomed to an existence of processed, pre-fabbed, irradiated foods with an infinite shelf life?
The simple answer is, not a chance. Food is the catalyst that brings us together, the fuel for our nourishment, and a source of pride and pleasure for those who love preparing and consuming it. It’s less about fear factor than it is about empowerment and in our responsibility to be informed enough to ask the right questions. I’ve made my family practically slide under the table with the questions I’ve asked in restaurants (is your seafood wild caught, how do you wash your salad greens, do you have white flour alternatives) because it’s my right and I feel, my duty, to protect my family and myself. I’ll never forget the woman who approached me after she saw me wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Think before you bite.’ When I explained what I do, she began to sob. She shared with me that her daughter, Alexis, an athlete and the picture of good health, became paralyzed at 27 after eating tainted Ahi tuna at a well-known Orange County restaurant. “If only they had your products, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
Now I’m not after widespread panic and paranoia with every bite, but I can’t help but think that if we unite as an informed community – protectors of our plates – we can at least empower a collective consciousness. From how you shop, select, clean, prepare, serve, store and share your plate, you’ll find that these 7 tips will help you navigate the food forest in a more fruitful way.
The Fit Foodie’s Top 7 Tips to Protect Your Plate
Shop with your eyes wide open.
You may have your list and checked it twice, but knowing what to look for is where savvy food safety starts. Steer clear of canned foods that are dented and jars with broken seals, as air can contaminate the contents. Choose seafood that is properly refrigerated or iced and avoid the pre-cooked varieties. With dairy items, make sure foods have been properly chilled and purchased by the suggested ‘enjoy by’ date.
The adds and add-nots.
There are over 14,000 additives used in commercially prepared foods today. Some are far more complicated and potentially dangerous than others and manufacturers, restaurateurs and those who make our food are not required to disclose the hazards. Become knowledgeable in the vocabulary of food ingredients and additives. Read the labels on packaged foods and avoid artificial chemicals, colors, chemical preservatives (MSG, BHA, BHT, Nitrates), bleached white flour, hydrogenated fats and 8-syllable words. If you can’t pronounce it, does it belong on your plate?
Pick your produce wisely.
Before your fruit and veggies reach you, they’ve likely traveled an average of 1,500 miles. The further food travels, the more potential points of contamination. Shop for what’s in season and ask your retailer or green grocer about where their food comes from. When picking produce, avoid bruised, cut skin as this can breed bacteria and contamination. Never ‘sample’ grapes, cherries, strawberries and other produce items in the store. They’re usually picked and packed in the field and could be seething with stuff you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth, including worms, parasites, fertilizers and other agricultural contaminants. That goes for organic, too.
Give your food a real wash.
You don’t just rinse your hands with just water so why would do the same with fruit and vegetables from the ground? Contaminants from handling, soils and dirt residue, chemical fertilizers and dirt can carry harmful bacteria or get trapped under non water-soluble waxes, carrying life-threatening pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli and parasites. The same goes for pesticide residue. Remove the outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage, scrub the edible skin of fruit and veggies and take two minutes to really wash properly – not just casually rinse. Natural cleaning products formulated to remove wax and easily lift soils and dirt can also help you get the task done effectively.
Don’t let your fowl go foul.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you’re talking about Salmonella, both can be breeding grounds for bacteria, but chicken is the number one cause of food poisoning. Handling these foods with the utmost care and cooking them properly will help reduce your risk of contamination. Prevent cross contamination from poultry and ‘fecal soup,’ that liquid your bird is swimming in (that accounts for up to 15% of your chicken’s weight, by the way.) Wash your hands regularly when handling both raw chicken and eggs and avoid contact with your mouth and any other surfaces. The interior temperature of your cooked chicken should be 165F degrees and 160F for dishes containing eggs
Select your seafood safely.
You shouldn’t smell seafood before you see it coming. If there’s a strong odor or unsavory funkiness, send it back. If you’re at a restaurant, don’t hesitate to ask where they get their ‘fresh’ catches and when they came in. If you’re ordering raw fish dishes or sushi, ask if it’s been prepared anywhere near other raw foods, which can result in cross contamination. Opt for wild caught seafood vs. farm raised. A big surge of the available seafood is being raised in closed quarters that can spread disease and bacteria more rampantly than line caught counterparts. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has these nifty little guides you can download on the safest seafood to eat – and the most ocean friendly choices.
With temperatures rising, heat can become a breeding ground for bacteria. When it comes to perishables like meat, dairy and fresh fruit + veggies. If you’re not taking a direct route home from the grocery, tote your own insulated grocery bags to help keep your bundles from going bad. If you’re planning a picnic or barbecue away from home, make sure to pack a cooler and plenty of ice. Perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours and if the temperature is above 90°F, one hour is the max.