Following a healthy diet plan is a key component of my overall program for optimal health and well-being. With that in mind, here are some food safety tips you should follow to ensure you get the most benefit from your diet.
Food Buying Tips
- Buy organic whenever possible. While I recognize that organic food costs more, from a nutritional and food safety point of view, it’s your best bet.
- When shopping for produce, choose fresh fruits and vegetables if you can. They not only have the best taste and texture, they’re the healthiest. As a general rule, avoid canned fruits and veggies, which contain a high amount of sugar and sodium. Exceptions include canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, canned beans (all varieties), ripe olives, and mild chopped chilies. If you need something that’s not in season, buy it frozen.
- Avoid large predatory fish. The leading source of mercury exposure in this country is the methylmercury found in seafood. Methylmercury is formed when environmental mercury makes its way into our oceans, lakes, rivers, and soils, where microorganisms transform it into this highly toxic organic compound.
So, when it comes to food safety tips and selecting fish, you should be aware that long-lived, predatory species such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish have the highest levels of mercury and, therefore, are best avoided.
On the other hand, the following fish and other types of seafood can—and should—be eaten at least twice a week: anchovies, catfish, clams, crab, flounder, herring, ocean perch, oysters, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid (calamari), tilapia, trout (freshwater), and whitefish.
Food Preparation Tips
- Don’t microwave food using plastic. When you hear “food safety tips,” chances are microwaves come to mind since using them has been a topic of great debate over the years. For example, one common concern is that microwaving food in plastic can cause cancer.
Heat does mobilize molecules and, as a result, could increase the likelihood of chemicals migrating from plastic wrap and containers into your food. The chemicals of greatest concern are phthalates, which are added to some plastics to make them more flexible. Phthalates have hormone-like effects that can disrupt endocrine function and have been linked to poor sperm quality and abnormalities in male genitalia; however, the link between cancer and the chemical is less clear.
To avoid exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, use glass, ceramic, or cookware specifically labeled safe for microwaves—no disposable storage or take-out containers—and cover food with glass, wax paper, or white paper towels rather than plastic wrap.
- Use nontoxic, nonstick cookware. Teflon pans and food safety tips also go hand in hand. The problem with Teflon is a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to make nonstick coatings that line pans, disposable food containers, microwave popcorn bags, and hundreds of other items, including stain-resistant products.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies PFOA as a “likely human carcinogen,” and companies such as DuPont have agreed to eliminate this chemical from manufacturing emissions and consumer products by 2015.
Because this chemical is so pervasive, it’s hard to avoid it, but getting rid of your Teflon pans, especially those that are scratched, is a step in the right direction. As for alternatives, there’s always cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum, but food sticks to them like crazy and some question the safety of the small amounts of metal they leach into food.
That’s why I recommend using nontoxic, nonstick cookware instead. One option is enameled cast iron. It provides cast iron’s excellent heat diffusion properties, but the enamel coating, which is made of powdered glass fused to the metal, makes for less sticking and easier cleaning. A good brand is Le Creuset, sold in department stores and through various online retailers.
Another nontoxic cookware coating is ceramic, a pottery-based material fused to the metal. Cuisinart’s GreenGourmet cookware uses an environmentally friendly, nontoxic, hard ceramic coating with excellent heat stability. It is also widely available in department stores and on the Internet.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have any other food safety tips you’d like to share?