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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE ENCOURAGES CONSUMERS TO FOLLOW FOOD SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

 RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- In light of the recent foodborne illness outbreak related to improperly cooked hamburger in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Califorres and to cook foods, especially meat, thoroughly. The "E. coli 0157:H7" bacteria, which can be linked to illness and deaths in the western U.S., can be found in virtually all foods and water. However, proper food handling and adequate cooking temperatures will terminate the bacteria if they are present.
 In Virginia, VDACS monitors the safety of the food supply at all points of the chain -- from the farm to the processors to the grocery store. "What people need to remember," says Clinton V. Turner, Commissioner of Agriculture, "is that the American food supply is one of the safest in the world -- if not THE safest. I feel good about our inspection programs in Virginia in the things we do to protect the food supply," says Turner. "Our inspectors, along with federal staff, monitor all food processing plants and slaughter facilities from start to finish. We also inspect grocery stores, and the Health Department or city/county officials inspect eating establishments to help ensure food is properly handled and cooked. But recently, our agency has become concerned about the last step in the food distribution chain, the individual consumer."
 The vast majority, nearly 85 percent, of all foodborne illnesses occur because of improper handling and preparation in the home. Concern over that statistic prompted VDACS to create a Food Safety Task Force, which has published a book called "Keeping Your Food Safe." It's geared to the consumer and tells people in clear language what they can do to protect themselves and their families from foodborne illness.
 The following safe food handling practices also help prevent foodborne illness from harmful pathogens:
 -- Cook ground beef burgers to an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do not have a proper thermometer, cook until the juices run clear.
 -- When you eat out, check the middle of a hamburger to make certain the meat is not pink or red and that the juice is clear. Send back any meat, poultry or fish product that does not appear to be thoroughly cooked.
 -- Never drink raw milk. Use pasteurized milk.
 -- Keep hot foods hot (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit) and cold foods cold (40-45 degrees Fahrenheit).
 -- Wash hands well with hot soapy water before and after handling meat.
 -- Avoid cross-contamination of raw foods with cooked foods. Be especially careful of the juices of raw meat, fish or poultry. Juices can carry harmful bacteria that are especially dangerous if they get on food items such as salad ingredients that are not cooked.
 -- Use refrigerated ground meat and patties in 3-4 days, frozen meat and patties in 3-4 months.
 -- Never thaw food on the counter or let it sit out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
 Consumers with questions about Virginia's meat inspection program may call 804-786-2483 in Richmond. For more information about VDACS efforts to ensure that food purchased in the state is safe, wholesome and properly labeled, consumers may request a copy of the book "Keeping Your Food Safe," a slide set with script by the same title or a speaker on food safety. Write to the VDACS Office of Communication, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, Va., 23209, or call 804-786-2373.
 -0- 2/11/93
 /CONTACT: Elaine J. Lidholm, Assistant Director, Office of Communication, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 804-786-2373/


CO: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ST: Virginia IN: HEA SU:

MM -- CH003 -- 5806 02/11/93 15:10 EST
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Date:Feb 11, 1993
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