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WASHINGTON - With the holidays right around the corner, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding retailers that its Meat and Poultry Hotline is another resource to direct consumers to during the United States' most important eat-at-home time of year.
The mission of USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, which has served almost 2 million callers since it began operating on July 1, 1985, is aimed at educating consumers about food safety to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
In the beginning, the agency says calls to the hotline were mostly general, like, "Is food left out overnight safe to eat?" As consumers became more knowledgeable about food safety, however, questions became more technical.
"While knowledge of food safety has definitely increased, many consumers still don't follow the basics of safe food handling -- clean, separate, cook, and chill," said Dr. Elsa Murano, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety. "These are four simple food safety steps that all cooks can follow to keep their food safe during the holidays and all year long."
Murano added that two decades ago most Americans had never heard of E. coli O157:H7, salmonella enteritidis, and listeria monocytogenes. "I firmly believe that the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline has played a major part in educating Americans about these bacteria and how to avoid foodborne illness," she said.
When calls are received, hotline food safety specialists assess the caller's knowledge of food safety and provide appropriate guidance. Callers dealing with difficult or puzzling situations are helped to choose the safest food-handling alternatives, thus reducing the risk of foodborne illness. Specialists also assist by clearing up misconceptions callers may have about food safety.
In an emergency situation, such as an outbreak of foodborne illness, a power outage, natural disaster, or a food product recall, the hotline provides vital information to consumers in a timely manner. In the event of a meat or poultry recall, callers can obtain detailed information that will help them identify the suspect product.
In 2002 the toll-free hotline extended its service to callers whose first language is Spanish by adding Spanish-speaking specialists. The FSIS Web site (www.fsis.usda.gov) also contains hundreds of food safety publications for consumers.
For more information in English and Spanish, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving. An extensive selection of timely food safety messages is also available at the same number 24 hours a day. Additionally, information can be accessed on the FSIS Web site. E-mail inquiries may be directed to MPHotline.email@example.com.