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Food Safety and What You Can Do at Home

Today, the U.S. faces major challenges to the health and well-being of our population. For example:

  • 78 million Americans are considered obese.
  • 117 million people – about half of all adults in the U.S. – have one or more preventable, chronic diseases.
  • Each year, about 48 million Americans are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food-borne illness.
  • Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that climate change and the health of the environment are linked to the health of our country’s population.

It’s a well-known adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But in the case of public health and safety, and ecological stewardship, our country is ramping up preventive efforts with far more than an ounce. Meanwhile, Washington Hospital is doing its part locally to improve the health of patients, the community and the environment.

This is the first in a series of articles on recent advances in U.S. efforts to take a more proactive, preventive approach to improving and protecting the health of our citizens. We’ll also talk about what you can do to improve your own and your family’s health, and how Washington Hospital works every day to protect the health of patients and the community.

Our Food Supply Chain

“Summer is almost here, and people will be spending more time out of doors at farmers’ markets, picnics, barbecues and more. We’ll be purchasing, preparing and eating a lot of fresh produce,” said registered dietitian Kimberlee Alvari, director of Food and Nutrition Clinical Services at Washington Hospital. “It’s a good time to think about the importance of a safe and healthy food supply chain and what each one of us can do to help ensure we are purchasing, preparing, serving and eating food that is safe.”

The U.S. has one of the safest food systems in the world. Despite this, in recent years there have been multiple outbreaks of foodborne disease related to foods like spinach, cantaloupe, peanut butter, eggs and others.

In 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, our country’s most extensive reform of food safety laws in the past 70 years. Since then, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been rolling out numerous aspects of this comprehensive legislation.

“The act is having a huge impact on the way our government approaches food safety – by shifting the focus to prevention rather than reacting to food safety problems after they happen,” explained Alvari. “Studies by the Centers for Disease Control show that the highest offender in terms of foodborne illness is produce, so the new law places a big focus on monitoring food safety from farm to plate.”

Shifting to a healthier more preventive approach to food safety – especially in terms of fresh produce – is also something you can do in your own life, Alvari recommended. This includes everything from shopping for and selecting produce to storing, preparing and serving it.

Here are some pointers:


  • Avoid buying overly blemished or damaged fruits and vegetables. Any openings in the skin are places where bacteria can enter.
  • If you take cloth bags to pack your groceries, be sure to wash them regularly. And, you shouldn’t store them in your car. Warm cars are incubators for bacteria.
  • At the farmers market, keep an eye on the overall quality of the produce. Are vendors following safe practices, such as using tongs or gloves and washing or sanitizing their hands frequently? Focus on local vendors, and learn about their farms and their operations.


  • Don’t store your fruits and vegetables in airtight containers, especially if they have already been washed. This promotes bacteria and mold.
  • For produce that doesn’t need refrigeration – such as bananas, avocadoes, tomatoes, peaches and nectarines – keep them in separate bowls or baskets. These fruits produce ethylene gas and feed off each other, which can speed up ripening and lead to spoilage.

Preparation and serving

  • Wait to wash your produce until you are ready to use it and scrub with a vegetable brush, even if you plan to peel it. Cutting into unwashed produce can send bacteria inside.
  • Don’t leave food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.

Food Safety Practices at Washington Hospital

Washington Hospital takes a proactive approach to food safety for patients, employees and visitors. It is a member of the Healthy Food in Health Care initiative of Health Care Without Harm, an organization that aims to improve the sustainability of our food services and promote a healthier food system. The Hospital’s goal is to offer higher quality, more nutritional food choices with the highest possible degree of safety.

“We emphasize and build relationships with local produce vendors,” reported Alvari. “This enables us to monitor the entire path that fruits and vegetables take from the farm to the plate in our Hospital.”

Alvari and her team visit the farms of local growers and inquire about the safety of the path the produce follows. Washington Hospital is among the first in the Bay Area to be interested in working with their produce vendor on a produce traceability program. The program uses electronic tracking to follow produce as it travels from the farm to the Hospital’s kitchen, where it is prepared for patients, employees and visitors.

Learn More

To find out more about the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, go online to To learn more about Healthcare Without Harm, go to For more information about Washington Hospital, visit