Tag Archives: CDC

“Date” Yet one more four-letter word.

Tzolkin Calendar - hsc08a

No, not that kind of date!  It can’t be healthy to eat food past the “expire” date, can it?  What about the “sell by” or “use by” dates?  These labels are confusing, and really don’t mean very much.  We might as well use an Aztec Calendar Wheel for the same amount of clarity!

They give us the the date by which the manufacturer has deemed the food to be closest to the taste that the manufacturer decided was best.  “But companies want people to taste their products as best they can at the optimum, because that’s how they maintain their business and their market shares.”  (Institute of Food Technologists)  “There should be a standard date and wording that is used. This is about quality, not safety. You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.” (Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic)  All sources say the same thing.  Smell it.  Taste it.  You can tell if a food has gone bad.

This is much different than contamination.  “Bacteria, viruses, or parasites mainly cause foodborne illness. Many foodborne illnesses are a result of bacteria or viruses, which are microorganisms or “germs” that occur either naturally in foods or are spread as a result of poor practices, such as cross contaminating foods or improper handling during food preparation. Bacteria can rapidly multiply under the right conditions.”  (MDH)

Bacteria growth in food 2

Bottom line:  Let your senses (including common sense) guide you, and take basic precautions including hand-washing and sanitary kitchen practices.  (Information on food safety here.)

Butter or Margarine? (And a whole lot of other questions…)

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I have to agree with Postconsumers.com on this one (and I also agree to trust the cow to know what it needs to eat to be heatlhy (hint: it’s not corn)… but that’s another post for another day!)

So we want to make some better choices.  Maybe eat a little bit more of this, or a little bit less of that.  But what should we be eating?  And just as importantly, what shouldn’t we?  It seems like it’s changing all the time.  

I don’t know about you, but when I was young(er!) the goal of schooling was to teach us a lot of facts.  When it came to food and nutrition, if I was taught basic facts, that was a lot.  The good, the bad, and the fad.  (The “healthy” low-fat / high-carb diets of the 1980’s damaged me tremendously.)  Since nutrition is a newer science, advances can develop quickly.  Sometimes it makes our heads spin to try to keep up.  A very brief synopsis of the timeline of nutritional science (USDA):

  • 1894 – First dietary guidance by USDA (specific vitamins & minerals not yet identified)
  • 1916 – 1930s – First dietary guidelines
  • 1941 – First RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) 
  • 1956 – Basic Four food groups introduced
  • 1977 – Evidence of over-consumption related to concerns and diseases
  • 1979 – First food guide to target moderation of fats, sweets, and alcohol
  • 1979 – First published reports of relationship between diet and health outcomes
  • 1980 – First guidelines suggesting variety for essential nutrients (but no quantities) 

The first talk of specific nutrients was in the 1980s!  As science has been advancing and more and more information is discovered, we are continuously bombarded with conflicting, and often changing, “facts.”  Combine that with the emotional appeals, and it’s a wonder any of us know what is best for us.  Then we have all the miracle pills…  If spinach is good, all we have to do is figure out what nutrient in the spinach is good, remove it, concentrate it, consume it, and then it will be great!  We will be even healthier, right?  Not so fast!  

Back on track…  There are  more facts instantly available to us than we ever imagined possible.  Now, instead of needing to learn the facts, we need to learn discernment, or how to figure out which of that mountain of information is valid and reliable.  What information relates to us, and affects us.  Definition of fact:  “A true piece of information.”  So where do these facts come from, and how do we know which to believe?  

Richard Dawkins said:  “Science replaces private prejudice with public, verifiable, evidence.”  While I believe this to be true, I also know that studies can be manipulated and results can ensured that certain studies prove their point or hypothesis (or back up their marketing strategy to sell their products.)  That is why it is so important to know the source of the information.  Where does this information come from?  Is it a credible source?  Have peers, or other professionals, reviewed these “facts” that we so readily believe?  Have they been taken out of context?

Is it possible for us to do this for most things that we consume?  Absolutely not!  That’s why we must rely on trusted organizations to do much of this work for us.  

In the mean time, if we continue on a path toward a greater variety of real food instead of food products, including more vegetables, and we listen to our bodies, we are off to a good start.  When we eat the whole food, we get not only the nutrients we need, but the combination of nutrients to work best in our bodies.

We should all remember each time we read something to pause and ask:  “Says who?!”  If a reliable source is not mentioned, we must be sure to do more research before believing it.  And a personal favorite:  If the message creates a great deal of emotion (especially negative or ‘flaming’), it behooves us all to think before reacting.  Oftentimes the author relies on our emotional response to produce an immediate reaction.  Let’s be proactive, not reactive.  Our lives depend on it.  

Last thought:  

Beware:  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is  There is no magic pill.  When on fire, we ‘stop, drop, and roll.’  When under constant bombardment of conflicting information (which can be equally dangerous in the long run), perhaps we need to ‘stop, think, and research.’  

RESOURCES FOR YOU:

In-depth information on deciding if a source can be trusted:  Evaluating Health Information and the CDC.  Although the CDC’s information linked here is listed under a specific health concern, the suggestions apply to the discernment of all health information.  The CDC has a tremendous amount of health information as well.

Healthfinder.gov:  “a government Web site where you will find information and tools to help you and those you care about stay healthy.”

Food and Nutrition Information Center:  “a leader in food and human nutrition information dissemination since 1971 – provides credible, accurate, and practical resources for nutrition and health professionals, educators, government personnel and consumers.”

Medline Plus:  “MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health’s Web site for patients and their families and friends. Produced by the National Library of Medicine, it brings you information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues in language you can understand. MedlinePlus offers reliable, up-to-date health information, anytime, anywhere, for free.”

National Institutes of Health:  “NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”

Environmental Working Group:  “The Environmental Working Group is the nation’s leading environmental health research and advocacy organization.  Our mission is to serve as a watchdog to see that Americans get straight facts, unfiltered and unspun, so they can make healthier choices and enjoy a cleaner environment.”

To Use, or Not To Use Hand Sanitizer? That is the question!

HumanOrBacteria - TedTalksPhoto Credit:  Bonnie Bassler (see below)

We all know that washing or sanitizing our hands is imperative to prevent the spread of disease.  The centers [Centers for Disease Control/CDC] say handwashing is “the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection from bacteria, pathogens and viruses causing diseases and food-borne illnesses.”  (CDC)

Among the many diseases that are passed on by direct contact are:  the common cold, influenza, strep throat, ear infections, gastrointestinal disorders, salmonella, E. coli, as well as diseases such as hepatitis A.

If your hands are dirty, use soap and water,  but do it properly if you want to kill the germs.*  Some things to keep in mind when it comes to hand sanitizer (and as I always say…  Moderation!):

  1. Hand sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol to effectively kill germs
  2. Alcohol doesn’t cut through grime well, so dirt, blood, feces or other body fluids or soil must be wiped or washed away first, if the alcohol in the sanitizer is to be effective. In such cases, hand washing with soap and water is advised.”  (NY Times)
  3. Sanitizer does not kill all types of germs
  4. Sanitizer kills the ‘good’ bacteria that help our immune system and repair wounds too (USCD)

Bonnie Bassler (photo credit) explains that we are only 1% human and 99% bacteria if we compare the amount of DNA we are carrying, or at best 10% human and 90% bacteria going by the number of human vs. bacterial cells in our bodies!  We definitely have a symbiotic relationship with many different types of bacteria.  We don’t want to eliminate them all.

*Proper handwashing technique (CDC):  Apply soap to wet hands, scrub all surfaces of hands (and under nails) for 20+ seconds (“Happy Birthday hummed twice), rinse well, and dry with clean towel or air.
Or if soap and water are not available, enough 60+% alcohol sanitizer rubbed vigorously until hands are dry (should be at least

Photo Credit: Bonnie Bassler from Ted Talks, a great video on how bacteria “talk”!  http://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html