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  1. Buy, Store & Serve Safe Food

Food Tampering, An Extra Ounce of Caution

In today's world, we're all being more cautious as we go about our daily routines. And, this caution should also extend to the foods we purchase.

The deliberate tampering of food to cause major disease outbreaks is rare, particularly in the United States. However, recent news events have focused attention on the increasing possibility of such tampering.

As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is enhancing its surveillance of foodborne disease and increasing the inspection of domestic and foreign food-processing plants. The food industry is also stepping up safety measures to ensure that its products are produced as safely as possible.

As a consumer, you also play a role in preventing illness due to food tampering. Follow these tips to keep you and your family safe.

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Buyers Be Aware

How to detect product tampering at the grocery store...

  • Carefully examine all food product packaging. Be aware of the normal appearance of food containers. That way you'll be more likely to notice if an outer seal or wrapper is missing. Compare a suspect container with others on the shelf.

  • Check any anti-tampering devices on packaging. Make sure the plastic seal around the outside of a container is intact or that the safety button on the lid of a jar is down.

  • Don't purchase products if the packaging is open, torn, or damaged. This includes products on the shelf or in the refrigerator or freezer sections of the grocery store.

  • Don't buy products that are damaged or that look unusual. For example, never purchase canned goods that are leaking or that bulge at the ends. Likewise for products that appear to have been thawed and then refrozen.

  • Check the "sell-by" dates printed on some products, and only buy items within that time frame.

How to detect product tampering at home...

  • When opening a container, carefully inspect the product. Don't use products that are discolored, moldy, have an off odor, or that spurt liquid or foam when the container is opened.
  • Never eat food from products that are damaged or that look unusual. For example, cans that are leaking or that bulge at the ends.

Whom to Contact: 4 Steps to Reporting a Suspect Product

  1. If you suspect product tampering at the grocery store, report it to the store manager.

  2. Once you get a commercial food product home, report a suspected tampering incident to your local police department.

  3. If the food contains meat or poultry, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555.

  4. If the food does not contain meat or poultry (such as seafood, produce, or eggs), notify the Food and Drug Administration. For emergency questions, call the FDA's 24-hour emergency number at 1-866-300-4374 or 301-796-8240. For non-emergency questions, call the FDA Food Information Line at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

Safe Food Preparation at Home

Most foodborne illnesses happen at home. In addition to checking for food tampering, protect your family from harmful bacteria that may be present in food.

Follow these 4 simple steps:

Clean -- Wash hands and surfaces often

Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces in hot, soapy water before and after food preparation and especially after preparing meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.

Did you know? Twenty percent of consumers don't wash hands and kitchen surfaces before preparing food. Clean hands and surfaces are your first step in safe food handling.

Separate -- Don't cross-contaminate

Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread from one food to another. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.

Place cooked food on a clean plate. If you put cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.

Did you know? After marinating raw meat, poultry, or seafood, the marinade can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Don't taste the marinade or use it on cooked foods unless you boil it first.

Cook -- Cook to proper temperatures

Food safety experts agree that foods are properly cooked when they're heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. To make sure meat, poultry, casseroles, and other foods are cooked all the way through, use a clean food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.

Did you know? Roasts and steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F; chicken breast to 170°F; and whole poultry to 180°F (take the temperature in the thigh).

Chill -- Refrigerate promptly

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. So, set your refrigerator no higher than 40° F and the freezer unit at 0° F. Check these temperatures occasionally with an appliance thermometer.

Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food, and leftovers within 2 hours. Marinate foods in the refrigerator.

Don't thaw foods at room temperature. Safely thaw food (1) in the refrigerator, (2) in cold water (change the water every half-hour to keep the water cold), or (3) in the microwave if you'll be cooking the food immediately.

Did you know? Twenty-three percent of consumers' refrigerators are no cold enough.

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