Whether it’s listeria in cantaloupes, E. coli in sprouts, or even salmonella in ground turkey or peanut butter, it seems like our food supply is a ticking time bomb.
With government programs facing unprecedented cuts, it largely leaves food safety up to us, the average consumer, to keep our kitchens clear of harmful bacteria. So where are these bugs lurking? Chances are, in one of these three foods.
The dirt: Testing released by Consumer Reports in 2010 found campylobacter in 62 percent of tested broilers; salmonella turned up in 14 percent. The number of birds infected with hard-to-kill supergerms is up more than 30 percent compared to 2007. In 2012, feather testing found antidepressant, caffeine, and allergy med residues, and those are just a fraction of the freaky facts about your grocery store chicken.
At the supermarket: Look for organic birds; they are raised in less-crowded conditions, making it harder to pass along germs. Better yet, look for a local farmer who raises pastured broilers in smaller numbers.
At home: Bypass rinsing your raw bird in the sink—instead, put it directly into a baking dish or pan. Cook breasts and other cuts until the internal temperature hits 180°F. For the whole bird, check the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh.
The dirt: Which is dirtier, the chicken or the egg? Definitely eggs. Food poisoning linked to eggs sickens an estimated 660,000 people annually and kills 300.
At the supermarket: Check egg cartons for one word: “pastured,” and be aware of the nine most common egg carton labels and what they mean. Research has shown that the rate of salmonella contamination in eggs is directly related to flock size. Therefore, factory-farmed eggs from hen houses containing 80,000 hens are more likely to pass the bacteria along to you than those from a local farmer with a flock of 100 or so hens that he raises on pasture. In fact, bypass the supermarket altogether. Get your eggs at the farmer’s market, from a backyard chicken owner, or start your own backyard flock.
At home: Keep eggs in their carton and stow that in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the back of the lowest shelf). After you crack one open, wash your hands. Finally, cook your eggs—thoroughly (or, if they’re an ingredient in a dish, to 160°F).
The dirt: Germs don’t take a number in the deli; cold cuts have been labeled at “high risk” of causing listeriosis by a joint team of researchers from the USDA, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Combine that with the fact that cold cuts are, well, eaten cold, and you’ve got trouble; Listeria thrives at refrigerator temperatures that stun other foodborne pathogens.
At the supermarket: Turns out the most likely source of Listeria-contaminated cold cuts is the deli slicer. Without regular cleaning, the blade can transfer bacteria from roast beef to turkey to pastrami and back. Don’t buy more deli meat than you can eat within two days because the germ multiplies quickly, and remember that they’re also one of the saltiest foods in the supermarket, so go low-sodium but skipping altogether.
At home: When you’re ready to build your sandwich, slather on the mustard. Researchers at Washington State University killed off 90 percent of three potent pathogens—Listeria, E. coli, and salmonella—within two hours of exposing them to a mustard compound.