A few weeks ago, we asked you who was responsible for food safety: USDA, processors, retailers, farmers, consumers or all of these. A whopping 84 percent said food safety is the responsibility of everyone in the food chain, from farm to consumer and everyone in between. And I couldn’t agree more.
But I ran across some information from the American Dietetic Association this week that makes me wonder if some of us are perhaps a little more irresponsible than others.
A new survey by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and ConAgra Foods' Home Food Safety program shows that 83 percent of Americans typically desktop dine (of whom I am one) in an effort to save time and money. However, not practicing proper food safety at the office could end up costing consumers what they are trying to save.
When it comes to protecting themselves against food borne illnesses, many professionals are still "out to lunch," say association officials.
According to the new survey, a majority of Americans continue to eat lunch (62 percent) and snack throughout the day (50 percent) at their desks, while 27 percent typically find breakfast the first thing on their desktop to-do list. Late nights at the office even leave a small percentage (4 percent) dining at their desktop for dinner.
Only half of all Americans say they always wash their hands before eating lunch. In order to reduce the risk of food borne illness, registered dietitian and ADA Spokesperson Toby Smithson recommends washing your hands before and after handling food with soap and warm water, and keeping your desk stocked with moist towelettes or hand sanitizer for those times you can't get to the sink.
According to the Home Food Safety survey, only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas — desktop, keyboard, mouse — weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less.
A study updated in 2007 by the University of Arizona found the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. Ugh!
Furthermore, even though virtually all work places now have a refrigerator, only 67 percent of those surveyed say it is where they store their lunch. Frighteningly though, approximately one in five people admit they don't know if it is ever cleaned or say it is rarely or never cleaned. Smithson recommends not only cleaning the office refrigerator, but also using a refrigerator thermometer to ensure food is safely stored below 40 degrees F.
When it comes to safe refrigeration of lunches, perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours (one hour if the temperature is greater than 90 degrees F.) from when it was removed from the refrigerator at home. However, survey results show that 49 percent admit to letting perishable food sit out for three or more hours, meaning foods may have begun to spoil before the first bite.
So while dairy farms, food processors and retail food establishments must be held to high standards to maintain a safe and abundant food supply, I contend that we cannot let up on efforts to remind those who enjoy the fruits of our labor that they must also do their part to reduce food borne illnesses.
Excuse me while I hose down my desk.