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2002 News from Mecklenburg County

July 10, 2002  


Charlotte, NC – A new report from the General Accounting Office says the federal government’s inspection program may not be protecting the public from bacterial hazards in meat and poultry. 

The New York Times obtained an advance copy of the report.  It quotes Agriculture Department figures from 2000 and 2001 that show an increase in levels of salmonella in chicken and the incidence of a form of E-coli.  

The Mecklenburg County Health Department reminds consumers that proper hand washing is your first line of defense against food-borne illness.  Particular care should be taken before eating or preparing foods and between handling raw foods of different types, and in handling raw and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination of food. 

The following safety guidelines can also help minimize your chances of exposure to food-borne illness: 


·         Select meat packages that are clean and not torn or leaking.

·         Don’t buy foods past the “sell-by” or expiration date.

·         Make sure the case you are selecting meats from is registering 45F or lower.  Choose your meats and other refrigerated products at the end of your visit to the grocery store so they will remain cold longer.

·         Put meat and poultry in separate bags for transport so that the packaging will not cross-contaminate other ready-to-eat foods.

·         Keep perishable foods inside the air-conditioned car rather than the trunk.

·         Go straight home – make all other stops prior to going to the store.  If possible, place foods needing refrigeration in a cooler with ice for transport home. 


·         Unload foods needing refrigeration first, and place them in the refrigerator right away.

·         Put meats in the coldest part of your refrigerator – purchase a refrigerator thermometer to assure that the refrigerator maintains 45F or lower; a freezer thermometer should indicate that the unit is maintaining 0F.

·         Store raw meats away from ready-to-eat foods.

·         Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, and ground meats within two days; other beef, lamb or pork within three to five days.

·         Do not re-freeze any products that have been thawed from a frozen state.  Cook these products within two days of thawing.  


·         Wash your hands thoroughly before handling or eating food, and after using the bathroom, handling a pet, changing diapers, or anything else which might contaminate hands.

·         Wash your hands when you handle different food types.  For example, wash hands after handling raw chicken and before handling raw beef, between handling raw meat and raw vegetables, and generally between handling any raw food and any ready-to-eat food.

·         Do not re-use Styrofoam trays used to pack raw foods for any cooked or ready to eat foods.  In general, plastic, Styrofoam, aluminum, or other utensils or packaging is to be used one time and then discarded.

·         Clean and sanitize any cutting boards or counters after preparing food.  A surface sanitizer can be made from one teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water.  Clean the surface with hot soapy water first, prior to sanitizing.  Wash kitchen towels and cloths often in hot water in a washing machine.

·         Always marinate foods in the refrigerator; throw the marinade out after one use.

·         A meat thermometer is good to use to check for proper cooking temperatures.  Ground meats should be cooked until the thickest part of the meat measures at least 155F, poultry to 165F, and roasts to 145F.

·         When holding food over that is not eaten immediately after cooking, hold it hot to 140F.  Never hold food out of temperature for more than two hours; refrigerate any leftover food within this time by placing it in a cooler with fresh ice and store in the shade, or in a refrigerator with plenty of air space around the hot food.  If possible, divide large quantities of hot food into smaller quantities for quicker cooling.

·         Re-heat foods only once by heating them to at least 165F.  Foods that are heated and cooled often travel through the “danger zone” numerous times, allowing bacteria and other contaminates to grow, possibly producing toxins that cannot be killed by heating.  


Questions about food safety can be directed to the Mecklenburg County Health Department at (704) 336-5100.  Or visit our Web site at , and click on the place setting for more information about the Food Facilities and Sanitation program.

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