Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do I need to use a hand sanitizer in my home?

Answer: No, hand sanitizers are not needed if you are properly washing your hands.

Hand sanitizers, especially alcohol-based gel sanitizers have become increasingly popular the last few years. In some cases, people are using hand sanitizers as a replacement for handwashing. For consumers, the use of hand sanitizers is not needed and they are expensive. Proper hand washing is sufficient.

Research has shown that hand sanitizers can be as effective as hand washing only in certain situations. Because dirt, food, or anything else on your hands can make alcohol in sanitizers less effective, it is important to first wash your hands with soap and water.

Some confusion occurred when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2002 guidelines "recommending alcohol-based gel as a suitable alternative for healthcare personnel in health care settings." However, the guidelines only apply to hospital and clinics. These guidelines are not appropriate for and do not apply to the general public. The reason being that the level of soil on the hands are quite different between the two settings.

For consumers, hand sanitizers should only be used in situations where traditional hand washing with soap and water are not available. In those situations, use of an alcohol gel is certainly better than nothing at all.

For more information about hand washing, visit the web site http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing/ or http://missourifamilies.org/features/healtharticles/health92.htm.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Myth: I can tell when a food is done cooking by its color.

Answer: Color is not an accurate indicator of doneness.

Research has shown that hamburger will turn brown before an adequate final temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is reached. This is dangerous! E. coli bacteria can serve the cooking process if hamburger is not adequately cooked. Judging endpoint temperature of hamburger by color is unreliable and unsafe.

The problem with cooking a food until “done” is that we do not have a standard definition for what it means. The primary reasons we cook food are to make it safe to eat and more palatable. We know from research that foods need to reach certain internal temperatures to kill off any harmful bacteria or other germs that might be present. We know from experience how long to cook a food to make it fit to eat. For example, cook a turkey too much it can get dry and tough, but if you undercook the bird it can make you sick.

What we really need is more precise way of measuring “done.” Fortunately, we have a tool that can help us. The tool is the food thermometer. With a food thermometer, you can accurately measure how cooked a food product is. Everyone that prepares and cooks food should be using a food thermometer.

There are several types of food thermometers available to consumers in stores. They range from bi-metallic-coil thermometers to more expensive thermocouple thermometers. A popular thermometer that is inexpensive is the thermistor-style thermometer. This type of thermometer uses a resistor to measure temperature and the sensitive part of the thermometer is located at the tip of the probe. The display of the temperature is digital like a clock radio making it easy to read.

If you are not using a food thermometer when you cook, you should. It will help you be sure the food is safe to eat and it can help keep you from overcooking the food. For more information about food thermometers go to the following web site: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Kitchen_Thermometers/index.asp. For more information about food safety in general, visit http://missourifamilies.org/