How food safety knowledge can affect your health

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

(ARA) – Whether you’re feeding yourself or feeding your family, it’s important to know that the food you’re eating is safe and nutritious. But perceptions about finding a balance between those two essential factors have become muddled in recent years. While there is an increased effort to promote the consumption of healthy foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, there are also conflicting messages about their safety.

Concerns about food safety range widely, from the use of pesticides to medications given to livestock to outbreaks of diseases. Unfortunately, those concerns can affect the amount of healthful foods in Americans’ diets. “Feedback from consumers and practicing nutritionists is beginning to show that concern about pesticide residues is having a negative impact on consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says registered dietitian Dave Grotto. “What we need to do is encourage – not discourage – greater consumption of healthful produce.”

It might seem that the most logical solution would be to research whether foods are safe. A lot of information about this subject is available on the Internet, but that’s not always a practical option. Busy families that have schedules filled from morning to night don’t often have time to add an extensive research project into the mix. Luckily, there are some new resources available – often on mobile platforms – to help you make sense of the food safety headlines.

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One resource, the website, developed and operated by the nonprofit Alliance for Food and Farming provides consumers with scientific data that’s been translated to a user-friendly format. For instance, scientific research available to consumers about the amount of pesticide residue on foods can be filled with confusing numbers and terminology. But this site’s pesticide residue calculator gives you information about how much of a particular food item you could eat without any effects at all from any small amounts of pesticide residues that may be present. This can be based on either gender (for adults) or age (teens and children). For example, according to the calculator, a child could consume 154 servings of apples – even with the highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA – in a day without any effect, or an adult woman could eat 2,332 servings of kale. The calculator is also available for download as a smartphone app.

“Of course we know a child couldn’t consume 154 servings of apples in a day, but by providing more science and perspective on the safety of produce, we are hoping to give consumers more information to help them when making purchasing decisions in the produce aisle,” says Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming. “And, we are also hoping to halt the trend toward continuing decline in consumption of fruits and vegetables in America by reassuring consumers about the safety of both organic and conventionally grown fresh produce.”

If consumers are still concerned, they can simply wash their produce before eating.

The benefits of nutritious foods like vegetables and fruits are so far reaching that excluding them from your diet can adversely affect your health. With new resources that aim to help consumers understand the facts about food safety, it’s easier than ever to ensure that the meals you serve your family are full of healthy, delicious ingredients.