Extension Connection: Beware of “real deals” on food

By ANGELA TREADAWAY/Guest Columnist

Beware of traveling food vendors bearing great deals.

In fact, if a vendor offers you a deal you can’t refuse, do the smart thing – refuse anyway.

That’s what one food safety expert suggest people should do. Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety specialist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and food science, is concerned that people, in their zeal to cut costs, may be putting their families at real risk, suggests people should do.

Weese said the standard practice of any consumer should be to buy meat products only from those termed reputable sources.

Weese means meat vendors that sell products inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Meat that has been inspected by USDA bears a stamp, meaning that it meets the agency’s standards in terms of quality and safety,” Weese says, stressing that meat without this stamp can’t be sold legally.

Weese said even she has had encounters with such vendors. Many park on the side of the road or even visit private residences to sell meats out of refrigerated trucks.

“My recommendation is to be very wary of these people, because you have no idea where this product has been or where it’s come from,” she says.

Seafood is another product often sold on roadsides, particularly in the summertime, when it’s especially susceptible to spoilage.

Weese says many Americans mistakenly assume a product is not only cheap and produced domestically, but virtually 100 percent safe. Sometimes this just isn’t possible, Weese says, especially in cases where food products, such as beef, are required by law to be subjected to stringent food safety regulations.

“With USDA-inspected beef, you pay more, but you’re also guaranteed a much safer product,” she says.

Weese says the risks associated with contraband meat were driven home when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced information about a stolen trailer that contained approximately 14,800 pounds of ground beef that was possibly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Incidents such as these underscore why any meat product sold out of the trunk of a car or the bed of a truck should be regarded with suspicion, she says.

Angela Treadaway is a regional extension agent with the Shelby County Cooperative Extension Office.