Nutrition Action Healthletter
October 1998 — U.S. & Canadian Editions

Don’t be disappointed if your score is less than perfect. This food safety stuff is tough. That’s why we’ve done a lot of explaining in the answers. Just trying to figure out why it’s “c” and not “a” should help you eat more safely. So close your books, tear up your cheat sheets - and no talking. (There’s only one correct answer for each question.)

  1. You can’t get food poisoning if you thoroughly cook your food and eat it promptly.
    1. true
    2. false

  2. Which of the following long-term complications can result from food poisoning?
    1. rheumatoid arthritis
    2. kidney disease
    3. nerve damage
    4. all of the above
    5. none of the above

  3. The first symptoms of food poisoning can occur:
    1. immediately
    2. within two to 48 hours after eating
    3. from two days to a week after eating
    4. any of the above

  4. You should contact a doctor for possible food poisoning if you experience:
    1. bloody diarrhea or pus in the stool
    2. headache, stiff neck, and fever
    3. diarrhea that hasn’t let up after three days
    4. weakness, numbness, or tingling, usually in the arms or legs but sometimes around the mouth
    5. any of the above

  5. Which of these groups has a greater risk of getting food poisoning than the others?
    1. smokers
    2. heavy antacid users
    3. people who drink alcohol at least once a week
    4. they all have an equally high risk

  6. How many Salmonella bacteria does it take to give you food poisoning?
    1. as few as half a dozen
    2. at least one thousand
    3. at least one million

  7. Which has been linked to outbreaks of food poisoning caused by E. coli O157:H7?
    1. apple juice
    2. ground beef
    3. lettuce
    4. all of the above

  8. More than ten percent of all bottled water starts out as tap water.
    1. true
    2. false

  9. An "EPA-approved" water filter meets minimum standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for removing bacteria and other harmful substances.
    1. true
    2. false

  10. To avoid food poisoning from E. coli O157:H7, cook ground beef until:
    1. the internal temperature reaches 160°F
    2. the juices run clear
    3. no more pink color is evident
    4. any of the above

  11. When you cook meat or poultry or casseroles that contain meat or poultry what minimum oven temperature should you use?
    1. 125°F
    2. 225°F
    3. 325°F
    4. 425°F

  12. What’s an easy way to reduce the amount of potentially cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when chicken is broiled or grilled?
    1. keep the chicken refrigerated until just before cooking
    2. remove the skin after the chicken is cooked
    3. remove the skin before the chicken is cooked
    4. before broiling or grilling the chicken, pre-cook it in a microwave for a few minutes and pour off the juices
    5. any of the above

  13. Eighty percent of all food poisoning from meat and poultry is caused by:
    1. E. coli O157:H7
    2. Salmonella and Campylobacter
    3. Staphylococcus
    4. Clostridium

  14. Which kind of cutting board is safest for cutting meat and poultry?
    1. wood
    2. plastic
    3. either, as long as you keep it clean

  15. Prions are the agents that appear to cause a deadly disease in people who eat meat from cattle with "mad cow disease." Which cooking method for beef destroys prions?
    1. cooking until the internal temperature reaches 180°F
    2. broiling for at least 15 minutes
    3. pre-cooking in a microwave for three minutes and pouring off the juices before broiling or grilling
    4. cooking until no pink color remains and the juices run clear
    5. any of the above
    6. none of the above

  16. It’s safe to eat rare hamburgers if the ground beef has been irradiated.
    1. true
    2. false

  17. How can you tell if an egg is contaminated with Salmonella?
    1. the shell is cracked
    2. the shell has dried chicken feces on it
    3. the egg hasn’t been kept refrigerated
    4. you can see a dark spot if you hold the egg up against a light
    5. any of the above
    6. you can’t tell

  18. A roasted chicken is thoroughly cooked when:
    1. the thigh reaches an internal temperature of 180°F
    2. the juices run clear
    3. the leg moves easily in its socket
    4. any of the above

  19. Which fish are least likely to contain chemical contaminants like PCBs, mercury, and pesticides?
    1. lean ocean fish like cod, flounder, and haddock
    2. freshwater fish caught in inland lakes like bluefish and lake trout
    3. farm-raised catfish
    4. canned tuna

  20. More than 90 percent of seafood poisoning cases would be eliminated if people:
    1. bought only government-inspected seafood
    2. cooked their shellfish thoroughly
    3. made sure their seafood was kept on ice until right before it was cooked
    4. only ate fish they caught themselves

  21. To avoid excessive exposure to mercury, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that people limit their seafood consumption to an average of:
    1. four ounces a week
    2. two pounds a week
    3. five pounds a week
    4. no limit, as long as most of it is salmon or canned tuna

  22. The symptoms of ciguatera, the most common finfish poisoning in the U.S., are:
    1. headache and vomiting
    2. blood in the stool
    3. nausea, cramps, and diarrhea, followed by a "pins and needles" sensation around and inside the mouth and in the hands and feet
    4. any of the above

  23. It’s safe to eat raw fish as long as it has been marinated in lemon juice or vinegar for at least four hours.
    1. true
    2. false

  24. What percentage of fruits and vegetables contains pesticide residues?
    1. almost 100 percent
    2. about 80 percent
    3. about 50 percent
    4. about 10 percent

  25. Washing fruits and vegetables with special produce washes removes more pesticides than washing them with detergent and water.
    1. true
    2. false
    3. there’s not enough research to tell

  26. It’s safe to re-freeze food even meat and poultry as long as it has been thawed in the refrigerator.
    1. true
    2. false

  27. What’s the best way to refrigerate the quart of chicken cacciatore that’s left over from dinner?
    1. in several shallow containers
    2. in one deep container
    3. in the pot in which it was cooked
    4. the container doesn’t matter

  28. Once the date stamped on a milk carton has been reached, the milk:
    1. shouldn’t be sold
    2. shouldn’t be used
    3. has lost most of its nutritional value
    4. all of the above

  29. Which warnings does the Food and Drug Administration require on the labels of foods that contain the fake fat olestra (Olean)?
    1. may cause abdominal cramping
    2. may cause loose stools
    3. inhibits the absorption of some vitamins
    4. inhibits the absorption of other nutrients
    5. all of the above

  30. Which should you use to sweeten your coffee, tea, or other beverage?
    1. acesulfame K (Sweet On)
    2. aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
    3. saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
    4. sucralose (Splenda)
    5. sugar or honey



  1. b. false
    Some bacteria can produce dangerous toxins that aren’t destroyed even by thorough cooking. What’s more, cooked food can become contaminated if it comes in contact with an unwashed utensil, dish, countertop, or hand that was used to prepare tainted uncooked food.   back
  2. d. all of the above
    Salmonella can cause rheumatoid arthritis, E. coli O157:H7 can cause kidney disease, and Campylobacter or ciguatera (the most common poisoning from finfish) can cause nerve damage.   back
  3. d. any of the above
    Food poisoning is most likely to strike from two hours to two days after eating. But some toxins in fish work within minutes, while botulism could take up to a week.   back
  4. e. any of the above
    Bloody diarrhea or pus in the stool is the classic sign of an E. coli O157:H7 infection. Headache, stiff neck, plus a fever may be a sign of Listeria monocytogenes infection. Unrelenting diarrhea could lead to life-threatening dehydration. Weakness, numbness, or tingling could be a sign of botulism or food poisoning from tainted seafood.   back
  5. b. heavy antacid users
    Stomach acid helps destroy bacteria, so people who regularly take antacids or drugs like Tagamet or Zantac are more likely to get food poisoning than people who take them sporadically or not at all.   back
  6. a. as few as half a dozen
    It doesn’t take much Salmonella to make you ill. The ice cream that made 224,000 people sick in 41 states in 1994 contained only about six Salmonella bacteria in each serving.   back
  7. d. all of the above
    While ground beef is the most common source of E. coli poisoning, apples and lettuce that are contaminated with animal manure also have been linked to outbreaks.   back
  8. a. true
    More than 10 percent of all bottled water started its journey to your glass from some tap. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s more or less likely to contain contaminants.   back
  9. b. false
    No federal agency approves water-treatment units. But filters that use silver must register with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s all the "approval" means.   back
  10. a. the internal temperature reaches 160°F
    E. coli is destroyed at 160°F, and the only way to be certain is to use a quick-reading thermometer. New research suggests that when the pink color disappears and the juices run clear, the meat may still not be hot enough to kill E. coli.   back
  11. c. 325°F
    Never cook dishes that contain meat or poultry at less than 325°F. At oven temperatures below 325°F, the internal temperature of the food can take too long to reach 140°F. That’s the top of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the "Danger Zone". Below 140°F, any bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. And those bacteria can produce toxins that aren’t killed by heat.   back
  12. d. before broiling or grilling the chicken, pre-cook it in a microwave for a few minutes and pour off the juices
    Microwaving chicken for two to five minutes and then discarding the juice can reduce HCAs by 90 percent. Marinating (and discarding the marinade can also reduce HCAs. HCAs are potentially cancer-causing chemicals created when meat, poultry, and fish are cooked at high temperatures.   back
  13. b. Salmonella and Campylobacter
    Salmonella and Campylobacter cause 80 percent of all food poisoning illnesses‹and 75 percent of all deaths‹from contaminated meat and poultry. And most of the damage comes from poultry. An estimated one in every four chickens sold in the U.S. is contaminated with Salmonella, and as many as nine in every ten are contaminated with Campylobacter.   back
  14. c. either, as long as you keep it clean
    Bacteria cling to the surfaces of plastic boards, so they can easily rub off onto food. But plastic is easier to clean. With wooden boards, bacteria are absorbed down into the wood fiber and remain beneath the surface, away from food. But wood is harder to keep clean. The best advice: 1) keep a separate cutting board for meat and poultry, 2) keep your boards clean (put them in the dishwasher or scrub them regularly with a mild bleach solution), and 3) toss any board that has deep knife scars.   back
  15. f. none of the above
    Prions are not destroyed by conventional cooking methods. So far, no cases of mad cow disease have been detected here.   back
  16. b. false
    Irradiation doesn’t eliminate the need for careful handling. It kills almost all bacteria, insects, and mold, but not what causes mad cow disease, botulism, or hepatitis. And irradiated meat can always become contaminated in the kitchen if it’s placed on a dirty cutting board or plate.   back
  17. f. you can’t tell
    Roughly one out of every 10,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. And they needn’t be cracked, soiled, or unrefrigerated. If the ovaries of the hen that laid an egg were contaminated, Salmonella could have gotten into the egg before its shell formed. That’s why all raw eggs should be handled as if they were contaminated and should be cooked thoroughly... and why it’s no longer safe to lick the batter off the bowl or the spatula or your fingers.   back
  18. d. any of the above
    Salmonella and other bacteria are killed when poultry reaches 160°F. If you’re cooking a whole chicken, all its meat should be at least 160°F when the thigh reaches 180°F. At that point the juices run clear and the leg moves easily in its socket. (Ground poultry needs to be cooked to at least 165°F.)   back
  19. a. lean ocean fish like cod, flounder, and haddock
    The farther a fish is caught from the site of industrial discharges, the less likely it is to contain chemical residues. And leaner fish tend to be cleaner because many contaminants are stored in the fish’s body fat. While farm-raised catfish often contain traces of DDT and canned tuna often contain traces of mercury, the tiny amounts are unlikely to be harmful.   back
  20. b. cooked their shellfish thoroughly
    Raw shellfish accounts for more than 90 percent of seafood poisoning cases. The most common culprit is Norwalk virus, which comes from human sewage. It causes nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, but most of the 100,000 or so people who are attacked each year recover within a day or two. Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium found mostly in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is less common. But it still kills about a dozen people a year.   back
  21. b. two pounds a week
    To limit exposure to mercury, the FDA recommends that 1) women of childbearing age eat shark or swordfish no more than once a month, 2) everyone else eat no more than seven ounces of shark or swordfish a week, 3) everyone limit grouper, marlin, and orange roughy to 14 ounces a week, and 4) everyone limit total seafood consumption to no more than about two pounds a week.   back
  22. c. nausea, cramps, and diarrhea, followed by a "pins and needles" sensation around and inside the mouth and in the hands and feet
    In addition to nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and a "pins and needles" sensation, ciguatera victims can experience "temperature reversals", where hot things feel cold and (more likely) cold things feel hot. Most ciguatera cases occur in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. You’re most likely to get it from eating contaminated barracuda, grouper, or red snapper. Most people recover after a few weeks, but one in 20 victims may suffer the aftereffects for two years or more.   back
  23. b. false
    Ceviche may taste delicious, but "cooking" by marinating doesn’t kill all the harmful bacteria or parasites that the fish could contain. Neither does cutting up raw fish for sushi.   back
  24. c. about 50 percent
    Some 50 percent of fruits and vegetables tested by the FDA contain pesticide residues. Even worse, most of that 50 percent contains residues of more than one pesticide.   back
  25. c. there’s not enough research to tell
    According to a recent study, washing produce with a mixture of water and a mild dishwashing detergent (like Palmolive combined with peeling carrots and the skins of fruits like apricots and pears and removing the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage eliminated all pesticides in half of the fruits and vegetables that contained residues. So far, there’s no good research on whether special fruit-and-vegetable washes work any better.   back
  26. a. true
    Forget what your mother told you. It’s okay to re-freeze meat and poultry that was thawed in the refrigerator. Just don’t let the food lie around in the fridge for more than a day or two before you re-freeze it. And don’t expect re-frozen food to have the same taste or texture as food that was never frozen.   back
  27. a. in several shallow containers
    The idea is to get leftovers cooled down below the USDA’s "Danger Zone" (40°F - 140°F) as quickly as possible. Shallow containers do that best.   back
  28. a. shouldn’t be sold
    Milk that has reached its expiration is still safe and nutritious, and probably won’t go sour for another week or so.   back
  29. e. all of the above
    Olean reduces your body’s ability to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. That’s why Procter & Gamble adds those vitamins to Olean. But the fake fat also interferes with the absorption of carotenoids like lutein and lycopene, which may help prevent cancer, stroke, and macular degeneration (the major cause of blindness in the elderly). And P&G doesn’t add carotenoids to Olean. Olean also causes a variety of digestive problems.   back
  30. e. sugar or honey
    You’re probably better off with a teaspoon of sugar or honey, though they provide empty calories and promote tooth decay. Acesulfame K and saccharin may slightly increase your risk of cancer. Your best bet in an artificial sweetener is aspartame or sucralose, though aspartame should be better tested.   back
What’s Your Score?
Give yourself one point for each correct answer on this tough quiz.

Your Score _______

26 - 30 Send us your resumè—all three of you.
18 - 25 Give yourself a Ph.D—PhooD-safety Diploma, that is.
10 - 17 Don’t start that catering business.—at least not until you re-read your back issues of Nutrition Action.
below 10 We’d love to come to dinner—but, uhh, we’re washing our hair.

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