Changes in food processing

As cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and cancer were found to be linked to diets high in saturated fat and sodium, health promotion efforts shifted dietary consumption patterns away from the traditional meat and potatoes to less red meat, more chicken and fish, and more fruits and raw vegetables. There is greater emphasis on minimally processed foods, along with lower fat content and less sodium - characteristics attributed to a "heart healthy" diet. While these alterations to food content may be helpful in reducing cardiovascular risk, they can modify the food matrix to be less inhibitory to pathogenic as well as spoilage organisms.

Refrigeration is generally viewed as improving the storage conditions for foods that would otherwise spoil quickly at ambient temperature. However, one food-borne pathogen stands out for its capacity to grow at refrigeration temperatures: L. monocytogenes. In some processed foods, such as deli meats and cheeses, there can be outgrowth of very low numbers of L. monocytogenes, if present, during refrigerated storage. Product formulations now need to address shelf-life if the formulation permits growth of this pathogen.

Increasing emphasis on convenience and pre-cooked foods is fostered by time demands both in the home setting and in food service, schools, and restaurants. Pre-cooked ground beef has twice caused severe outbreaks of hemorrhagic colitis due to E. coli O157:H7 infection (Belongia et al., 1991; Jay et al., 2004). Packaged ready-to-eat (RTE) products now account for a substantial proportion of total food expenditures in industrialized countries. Microwave ovens are used at home by 85 percent of US households, yet many consumers do not know that uneven heating of microwaved meat and dairy products is a food safety risk rather than an organolep-tic (how the taste, color, odor, and feel of a food affects the senses) preference.

Limitations to parental time and role strain from competing work and family demands influence children's nutritional choices, and may also affect obesity outcomes (Mcintosh et al., 2006). There are no studies focused on food-borne illness risk in relation to parental time to prepare safe meals. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) included questions on food safety behaviors of the adults to whom it was administered, but did not address the preparation of food for children (CDC, 1998a). School-based health education on food-related matters is not uniform, and is mostly focused on dietary behaviors and nutrition (CDC, 1998b). It is not clear whether educational efforts directed at adults would be more effective than those directed at children to decrease risky food-handling practices, but in general child-focused education has been more successful in increasing health and safety behaviors (e.g. seat belt use, smoking cessation) by adults.

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