home
RSS
April 20th, 2009
01:51 PM ET

What’s the truth behind all those food expiration labels?

By Karen Denice
CNN Medical Senior Producer

What does the “Sell-by” date really mean?

Is the sell by date really a “consume-by” date? Everyone seems to have an opinion, but what are the facts? I was raised to never waste food. My grandfather used to cut the mold off my bread and hand it back to me. So, I have a rather liberal view of food safety – more of a sniffer than a by-the-book, go-by-the-date kind of gal.

But recently I was having friends over for dinner and wondered if I could be putting them at risk. The meat I was using had only a sell-by date and had been frozen every minute since then. Granted that sell-by date was in September and I was cooking for them in March. Don’t flinch!

For the dinner I used my personal sniff, color and texture test and decided it looked good, but that just made me wonder what do those dates on packages really mean? So I did some research.

Surprisingly food dating is not generally required by the federal government although 20 states do require it. There are multiple “dates” that may end up on your food; the one in question for me was the purchase or sell-by date. These dates are not an expiration date, but they do reflect when the food is at its highest quality. Depending on the food, it will stay good anywhere from one to two days [poultry] to five weeks [eggs] after the sell-by date if handled properly. (Check out this chart)  

There are also “Best if used by” or “Use-by” date stamps. These sound like your food might go bad, but again the U.S. Department of Agriculture says this refers only to the quality of the food – not safety.

If you freeze food the dates and advice gets murkier. Experts say freezing prevents the germs that cause food to spoil, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like the taste when it’s defrosted. Anything from freezer burn to how long it was frozen and the quality of the food will impact how good, or not good, it will taste.

Lucky for me, my friends enjoyed the meal and as it turns out it was unlikely they would have gotten sick anyway.

So are you a sniffer or a by-the-date person? Have you ever gotten sick taking a risk?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


February 9th, 2009
12:10 PM ET

Ohhh my aching feet!

By Karen Denice
CNN Senior Medical Producer

Another day, another training walk and my feet are feeling the pain. I’m training for a half-marathon walk and even though I know walking is good for my health, I also figured it would be pretty easy on my body. However, I did not check in with my feet before making this assumption. Granted I like to call my feet “special”: I overpronate, have flat arches and bunions – special.

Still, walking with good shoes and, for me, shoe inserts should normally do the trick. But the foot is a complicated specimen with 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 ligaments, tendons and muscles. The list is long as to what can cause foot pain - from plantar fasciitis and tendinitis to toenail injuries - and experts warn not to put up with foot pain – see a health professional.

But first you may want to try these tips to see if they cure the hurt. Wear socks that wick away moisture to reduce blisters. Always stretch legs and feet before activity and try to make stretching at the end of your day a habit as well. Also, consider the terrain you’re walking on – choose trails rather than pavement. This should cut down on stress to your joints which can lead to arch and heel pain. Avoid walking barefoot. Experts say this can leave your feet more susceptible to injury and infection.

I’ve tried nearly all of the above tips, and will probably be heading to a foot specialist myself if this discomfort continues.
Do you have foot pain when you walk? What do you do to cure the ache? We want to hear from you.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


December 24th, 2008
09:30 AM ET

Broken heart syndrome

By Karen Denice
CNN Medical Senior Producer

As a medical producer I’ve become a bit of a de facto health adviser to my family. Usually it’s about knee pain or headaches, minor stuff. Unfortunately a few weeks ago it was major – my mother was feeling fatigued, coughing frequently and her heart ached. I was worried, but thought it might just be grief. Her brother had died suddenly just days before and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one knows it feels like your heart is physically breaking.

Marie Denice and Karen Denice

Marie Denice and Karen Denice

I’m lucky that my parents are great “empowered patients” and so now in their 70s they work hard to remain in good health. So after some prodding, my mom went to her doctor, who didn’t like the sound of things and sent her to a cardiologist. The cardiologist already had a baseline EKG for her, so when he did another he knew something was wrong. My mom called. “The doctor said I had a heart attack,” and she was going in the next day for an angiogram. Those words still shock me.

Luckily, rational thought returned, and I remembered a story we’d done a couple of years ago on a condition called "broken heart syndrome". It looks like a classic heart attack with an abnormal EKG, chest pain, fatigue etc., but doctors have discovered it is far less damaging to the heart. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found stress cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, can occur when someone, often older women, receive shocking news. The emotional impact of that news can set off a powerful chain reaction – adrenalin and other stress hormones surge – stunning the heart. While this syndrome is still a bit of a mystery, the good news is, doctors believe that, unlike a heart attack, there is usually no long-term impact on the heart.

I e-mailed my mother the study and other articles, hoping this is what she had, hoping there was no damage to her heart. But her angiogram would tell the tale – showing any blockages or damage. Thank goodness, she came out with a clean bill of health and the doctor diagnosed stress cardiomyopathy. Phew!

Days later she went back to her primary care physician to tell him the good news and brought the research I’d sent her. The doctor had never heard of broken heart syndrome. This is an important point for everyone who comes to CNNhealth and is a health consumer. In this state of health care, primary doctors often don’t have time to read all the medical journals and research out there. So, empower yourself and if you suspect your symptoms are something other than what they say – speak up and talk it over with your doctor.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 29th, 2008
11:25 AM ET

Out of gas trauma

By Karen Denice
CNN Medical Senior Producer

I like to think of myself as a calm person. So when people began panicking in Atlanta about there not being any gasoline I didn't pay any attention. I kept driving my gas-efficient car and figuring the fuel situation would resolve itself by the time I needed to go to the pump. Wasn't I smart? Well that was until one morning when leaving my house, my gas light popped on and glared at me.

Arriving at work, I told my colleagues about the gas light. A guard we passed grunted with a sad smile, other co-workers told me of searching for gas days and nights in a row. I admit, the anxiety started to invade my psyche. Next thing I know, we were all grouped around my computer searching for any available gas in the Atlanta metro area. We found a station that was up and running close to work and I dashed out of the office with people yelling, "Call if you run out of gas.”

I arrived and was the upteenth car in line. I tried not to block the Burger King entrance as I waited on a busy street trying to get into the station.

                  Victory is near at the gas pump

Victory is near at the gas pump

Once I was almost in the lot, I took a photo – victory! But note the big bus in front of me. My mind was racing. What if he sucks up all the gas?!

When I finally made it to the pump, I hurriedly swiped my credit card, wanting to make sure I got gas before the woman on the other side of my pump. What was happening to me? So much for rational! Then, she started yelling that her pump wasn’t working. "Are you out of gas?” she asked. My heart lurched, and sure enough my pump was dry. Luckily, I switched to the most expensive option - "Ultimate" - and started pumping. I have never in my life put anything other than regular grade in my car, but at that moment it didn't matter.

I left the station with a full tank of "Ultimate,” my car purring and confused over this ultra-deluxe fuel flowing through its engine.

I returned to work triumphant and my fears in check, but boy what a lesson about how public anxiety can wreck anyone's calm in the right situation.

Have you become wrapped up in public panic or anxiety and if so, how did you stay calm?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

Advertisement
Advertisement