We’ve all heard the expression “safety first.” However, according to a friend of mine, it’s actually “safety third.” Looking good and having fun apparently come before safety, according to him and his co-workers. He has a more hazardous job than I do and has thus far escaped serious injury (knock on wood), so perhaps there’s something to this, though I’m skeptical.

Wherever safety ranks on your list, there’s no denying it’s important in all areas of life. Taking a few precautions can make a big difference. For instance, if you don’t clean out your toaster oven once in a while, it can catch on fire and scorch your bagel beyond all reason. (Nothing but the bagel was injured in the making of this life lesson. I can neither confirm nor deny that this happened to me personally.)

Flammable bread products aside, there are other ways food can pose a danger. At some point during our school years, my sister learned about the danger zone. Not the song, though I’ll probably have that stuck in my head for the rest of the day now. She liked to lecture others about the danger zone and always made sure to say those two words in the most ominous tone possible.

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (http://1.usa.gov/1fwcFEG), “Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the ‘danger zone.'” That includes bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella serotype Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter.

Scary stuff. However, for a certain relation of ours who shall remain nameless, none of this information ever sank in. It’s almost like he relishes consuming food that has been dwelling in the danger zone. He claims it makes him stronger. I’d like to say he is full of blarney, but by some miracle, he has never had food poisoning. This doesn’t make me want to disregard the concept of the danger zone, however. I’m convinced he’s a medical mystery of sorts, possibly with a cast-iron digestive system.

It’s in everybody’s best interest to prevent foodborne illness. To that end, as you all know, the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in January 2011. Implementation of the act is an ongoing process, and the FDA is still seeking comments on various components. There are many ways to approach food safety, and it’s crucial that the voices of growers be heard as the process moves along.

Stephanie Peake