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What I learned at Food Boot Camp


We’re from the government, but we can’t help you just yet

The Food and Drug Administration regulates 80 percent of the food produced and sold in the United States, including imports; the US Department of Agriculture regulates 20 percent. The USDA has twice as many people inspecting meat and poultry (7,500) as the FDA has working on anything else (3,000). The FDA has the same number of staff as it did 20 years ago, yet the number of items under its purview has increased. In 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which gave the FDA more power to issue immediate recalls. But Congress still needs to appropriate more than $1 billion to get the agency the inspectors it needs. Until then, wash your hands, scrub your utensils, and use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables to help avoid food-borne illnesses.


Don’t trust Chef Mike

Restaurant cooks refer to the microwave as “Chef Mike” but home cooks often have no idea how much time to cook food in one, which can lead to overcooking or, worse, undercooking and inviting salmonella. Cooking with a microwave, said Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is like “driving without a speedometer.” In 2013, Farm Rich Products had to recall more than 10 million pounds of frozen pizzas, quesadillas, mini cheeseburgers, and other microwave products after customers fell ill after eating the items . To protect yourself, buy a thermometer and make sure your foods are heated to 160 degrees. Or, reduce your consumption of microwave-ready dishes. (They’re also high in sodium.)

Hold the sprouts

Think adding something green to your turkey sandwich is good? Maybe not, says J. Glenn Morris, Director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. He says the US meat industry has succeeded in removing pathogens from meat — if customers cook it properly, it’s low-risk. Not so for packaged sprouts, which are a major vector for e. coli. Many public health officials say the benefits of eating sprouts (enzymes, proteins) pale in comparison to the risks.


Not everyone cares about healthy food

According to the Natural Marketing Institute, about 17 percent of Americans are price-is-no-option health food consumers. Another 14 percent eat healthy, but worry about price. A third group, about 21 percent, know they should make healthier choices but go for convenience. That leaves 48 percent of Americans to order the doughnut burger. But the good news, according to former food industry executive Hank Cardello, is that companies realize that the 48 percent are not a growing business. So companies are marketing to the 52 percent, offering low-calorie and low-carb options. Even Coke and Pepsi have seen a huge payoff investing in bottled water.


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Rona Kobell