- Buffets can be ground zero for a food poisoning outbreak.
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The appeal of buffets is clear: Why choose one menu item when you can have it all? But with increased quantity often comes decreased quality. And, in the case of buffets, a potential health risk.
Due to their large quantities of food and serve-yourself setup, buffets can be hotbeds of germs and bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, which affect 1 in 6 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That doesn’t mean you can never eat at a buffet again, but you should be cautious. Here’s what food safety experts say you should avoid in order to reduce your risk of falling ill after your next buffet visit.
Avoid all items at buffets with disengaged management.
- Absent staff is a red flag.
- Reuters/Luke MacGregor
The first thing you can do before you start piling food on your plate is make sure the food bar is up to par. This means taking a lap of the restaurant before you arrive to see that the serving stations are clean, each dish has its own serving utensil, and the overall establishment is clean.
The restaurant staff should also be present and attentive, Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety educator at Penn State, told INSIDER. Staff should be “removing food before it looks less-than-fresh, making sure patrons are following the rules, cleaning spills and removing food debris, and checking temperatures,” he said.
What they shouldn’t be doing is taking old food and dumping it on top of a new batch of food. Practices like that can contaminate the new food and make customers sick.
Say no to wilted lettuce and other sorry-looking foods at buffets.
- If something looks off, it probably is.
They say you eat with your eyes first, and you certainly should if you’re eating at a buffet.
Specifically, look out for food that has lost its integrity, like lettuce that has wilted, food that has dried out, or dishes that have “expressed their liquids into the container in which they are stored,” Bucknavage said. These are usually signs that food has been sitting out too long and possible turned into a breeding ground for bacteria.
Steer clear of food that’s not kept at the proper temperature.
- Food that’s meant to be eaten cold, like shrimp for shrimp cocktail, should be cooled to the proper temperature before it’s placed to serve.
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One of the buffet staff’s most important job is making sure the hot food stays hot and the cold food stays cold.
“Stay out of the danger zone,” or anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, Randy Worobo, a food science professor at Cornell, told INSIDER. At those temperatures, and especially around body temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit), foodborne pathogens grow fast.
If something is supposed to be eaten cold and is stored on ice, make sure the food is actually on ice and not a pool of water. In the case of something like shrimp cocktail, which is cooked but served cold, the food should be cooled before being placed on the ice rather than cooled by the ice.
Additionally, hot food should be served hot – not lukewarm. “If the hot table isn’t properly heated by steam or a hot water bath, then the food cools down to the danger zone,” Worobo said,
Be wary of anything raw at buffets.
- Raw foods miss the “kill step” where bacteria is killed through cooking.
Piling raw seafood on your plate might seem like an effective way to get your money’s worth at a buffet. But raw foods miss the crucial “kill step,” where bacteria is killed through cooking, Shelley Feist, executive director at the Partnership for Food Safety Education told INSIDER.
The Food and Drug Administration dictates that fish that is to be served raw must be frozen to kill potential parasites within it. However, there’s no way to know if the seafood at a buffet has been frozen. Even if it has, that doesn’t prevent external bacteria that otherwise would have been killed during the cooking process from infiltrating the seafood.
It’s not just raw seafood you should worry about. Even fresh produce like the greens at the salad bar or sliced fruit can be risky to eat because they too skip the important “kill step.”
If you’re set on serving yourself salad or other raw foods, make sure they’re being stored at the proper temperature. People who have compromised immune systems should avoid raw foods and stick to hot, cooked foods, Feist said.
Don’t eat buffet food that’s been mishandled by other patrons.
- Keep an eye out for patrons who aren’t handling the food properly.
Buffet management can do their best to ensure that the food they put out is safe and being managed properly, but they can’t monitor every diner they serve. One customer can use a ladle to scoop out one serving of food and then use the same ladle to scoop out a serving of a different food, thus contaminating a whole batch of food for others.
Look out for diners who use their hands to handle food, use their own utensils to serve themselves, reuse their dirty plates to get more food, and put back items.
If you observe unsanitary practices, it’s in the best interest of others to alert the staff. If you can do so tactfully, Worobo recommends pointing out the error to the wrongdoer, too. “I’d like to see customers educate other customers,” he said.
- The parasite enters the human body through ingestion of the snails or slugs that carry it.
- A new comprehensive study of the rat lungworm parasite tallied 82 human cases between 2007 and 2017. Two of them were fatal.
- Scientists know the disease is spread through mollusks like snails and slugs, but it’s not clear how it gets from there into the human body.
- Once in the body, however, the parasite travels to the central nervous system. A healthy immune system can kill it, but makes you sick in the process.
A parasite found in rats, and spread to slugs and snails, has been making people in Hawaii sick for the past decade, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Since 2007, 82 people have reported serious illness, including nausea, headache, and partial paralysis or blindness, believed to be from the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, better known as the rat lungworm.
The parasite enters the human body when people eat snails or slugs carrying it. But, except in one case where a victim ate a slug on a dare, most people aren’t intentionally eating slugs. So how do they get infected?
Read more: An Australian man died eight years after eating a garden slug on a dare
Researchers theorize that people eating unwashed produce are ingesting tiny slugs or snails hidden in their leafy greens or fresh fruits
The study found that the majority of patients with rat lungworm reported that they ate unwashed produce at least some of the time. Researchers also looked at other potential factors, including food sources and food storage. While only two patients said they stored food outside, more than half said they stored some food in unsealed containers.
Researchers noted that other activities such as home-growing food and keeping pets (whose food can attract the slugs) may also increase the risk of infection.
Most of the patients had observed snails or slugs on their property, and two-thirds had seen evidence of rats.
- Very small “semi-slugs” can carry high concentrations of the parasite and easily hide in produce, making humans sick.
- Hawaii Department of Health
Researchers identified a particular species, known as a semi-slug, as an adept climber that seeks out food sources and carries a particularly high concentration of the parasite. The young of this species can be as small as 2 millimeters in length – about twice the width of the tip of a pencil. This would make them nearly impossible to spot lurking on a fresh bunch of leafy greens, and easy to swallow in a bite of raw apple or carrot.
Once inside the body, the parasite tries to attack the central nervous system.
The human body can kill the parasite before it reaches the brain, but the immune response causes serious illness
White blood cells flood the brain and spinal cord to fight off the invading rat lungworm, causing headache, stiff neck, and nausea. Sometimes, the parasite can lead to more serious symptoms like impaired vision and face or limb paralysis. In the most severe cases, it can lead to meningitis and, rarely, be fatal.
Symptoms vary by age group; the study included people who were between 9 months and 82 years old. Children are more likely to experience fever, vomiting, and fatigue, while people older than 10 often reported head and body aches.
In all but a few cases, the infection does not require treatment but dissipates on its own after the parasites die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In serious cases, medication can treat the symptoms of the parasite, which are caused by the body’s immune system and not the bug itself.
The study did not find a rise in cases over time. However, researchers noted that infections occurred mainly during the rainy season, and were concentrated in particular “hot spot” areas on the east side of the big island of Hawaii.
Some refer to it as “cultured” or “cell-based” meat. Others call it “fake” meat. What is it?
It’s a new technology to grow meat in the laboratory and it may show up in the meat sections of our supermarkets someday soon.
Cultured meat has nothing to do with its social standing. Rather, it is meat produced when cells from animals are “cultured” or grown under laboratory conditions.
Not to be confused with plant-based meat substitutes made from vegetable proteins, cell-based meat is grown from actual animal cells. So, it is an animal product, not a vegetarian option.
Why do we do need another method to produce meat?
Some say it’s to keep up with the growing demand for quality protein sources in our expanding world.
Others say it is an alternate way to produce meat for human consumption.
Is cell-cultured meat the same as regular meat? Depends on who you talk to.
Muscle fibres produced in the laboratory are the same as that found in a steak, say leading researchers in this technology from Maastricht University in The Netherlands.
Yet, they also say that they need to tweak the procedure to get the same nutrient content, such as iron, that is found in red meat.
Some groups have petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better define the term “meat”, so we know if we are buying the traditionally produced type or the cultured variety.
Hopefully, we will see some labeling guidelines on these products before they show up in grocery stores.
And that may be a few years. Regulatory issues and cost (the first lab-grown hamburger patty cost a mere US$330,000 [RM1.375mil] to produce) could delay the introduction of cultured meat into our food supply for a while.
Are there any concerns with growing meat in the laboratory?
Depending on who you listen to, some groups say this method of meat production would result in less land and water use.
Other organisations voice concerns that growing meat in the lab would impact the environment more negatively than our traditional way of raising cattle as it would take massive amounts of energy resources to produce meat in this way.
Nutritionally, these products would be similar in some nutrients such as protein, and different in others. Scientists say they are looking into modifying the type of fat in lab-grown meat, for example.
Lastly, what will cultured meat be called? Is it real “meat” or a meat-type product?
That remains for either the US Department of Agriculture or FDA or both agencies to decide. For now, we can call it something new on the horizon. – The Monterey County Herald/Tribune News Service
Hurricane Florence is currently barreling toward the US East Coast, and is expected to make landfall in North or South Carolina as early as Thursday. Power outages are a major risk, as the Category 4 hurricane is carrying sustained winds of 130 mph.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service branch in Wilmington, North Carolina, said Hurricane Florence will likely be the area’s “storm of a lifetime.”
While it’s best to stock up on non-perishable items when preparing for a hurricane, people in affected areas are bound to have food in their refrigerators as well. Here are some suggestions from the US Department of Agriculture on how to protect the food in your fridge and freezer for as long as possible if you experience a power outage.
- Shayanne Gal/Business Insider