Food recalls signal better detection

There’s seems to be a bumper crop lately of recalls and outbreaks of illness caused by bad bugs in food products.  The website of is frequently populated with headlines announcing a multitude of mishandled foods.

But before you conclude there’s been a lapse in protection, consider this information from Michael P. Doyle, Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. He said more food recalls mean more problems are successfully being identified.

“We are fortunate in the U.S. to have the best foodborne disease surveillance system in the world,” says Doyle. “The methods they use to detect foodborne outbreaks continue to get better and as a result, many outbreaks detected today would not have been recognized five to 10 years ago.”

Food sleuths

In a food science “whodunnit,” investigators use advanced forensic technology to identify culinary culprits.

“With the implementation of whole genome sequencing to fingerprint harmful microbes obtained from patients, foods and food processing facilities, the CDC can now do the unthinkable and connect cases of listeriosis that occurred three to four years ago with a current outbreak,” said Doyle. “This is what happened with the recent listeria outbreak associated with Blue Bell ice cream.”

How do good foods go bad?

Doyle said, “Foods become contaminated in different ways. Most foodborne outbreaks occur because of a food handling failure in the home or at food service. Typically, less than 10 percent of outbreaks are linked to processed foods.”

Here are the most important steps for keeping foods safe.

Wash: To keep bacteria at bay, wash hands, surfaces, cutting boards, cooking utensils, dishes and fresh fruits and vegetable.

Separate: Avoid cross-contamination. When shopping, storing, cooking and eating, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods.

Cook: Use a food thermometer. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F, ground meat to 160 F and pork to 145 F.

Refrigerate: Slow the growth of bacteria and prevent food poisoning by using a refrigerator thermometer to ensure your fridge is set at or below 40 F.