Fear of illness contributes to high food discard rate

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Heart-HealthySome 30 to 40 percent of purchased foods are simply discarded by Americans. Drs Roni A. Neff, Marie L. Spiker, and Patricia L. Truant from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University investigated the factors involved in this high discard rate.

In a national survey that these researchers conducted, 65 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that they discarded food because they worry about food poisoning. A close runner-up (60 percent) was that they wanted to eat only the freshest food. While there is no good reason to consume outdated foods or those that appear to be spoiled, the idea that food poisoning is less likely to come from the freshest food is not necessarily true.

First, it s important to know that most foodborne illness is associated with fruits and vegetables not with meat products. Second, knowledge about how to handle foods properly is crucial. For example, keeping foods such as salad materials to be eaten raw separate from meats and poultry will help reduce contamination. Keeping animal products refrigerated or frozen until just before use (with proper thawing procedures) can prevent the growth of potentially dangerous microorganisms. For a more extensive discussion of proper food handling procedures, see ACSH s publication, Eating Safely, Avoiding Foodborne Illness, available here. (ACSH also hosts a Facebook page entitled Eating Without Fear).

Dr. Ruth Kava notes Handling food properly is key to avoiding foodborne illness: Some recent outbreaks have been linked to contamination of fresh greens (organic ones, believe it or not), so being sure to wash such foods thoroughly is crucial. While fresh food may well be tastiest, the idea that fresh foods are always more nutritious is without basis. Frozen and canned foods are probably the least likely to cause illness, and their nutritional content is high.