The food safety of your phone’s newest emojis

Later this year you’ll be able to adorn your texts and tweets with a cornucopia of new food-related emojis (though sadly, we have yet to receive an actual cornucopia emoji), among others.

The Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit tech organization that coordinates the coding of emojis, text and other symbols between all computers and devices, announced 2019’s new emoji list last month. The list includes 230 changes, including new icons and updates to preexisting ones. The new icons vary widely, from prosthetic arms giving thumbs-up, a cuddly otter and a pair of men’s briefs, but nine of them depict some tasty foods we eat every day.

Since we’re food safety lovers here at Neogen, we have one first thought when we look at the list: What are the biggest food safety topics tied to each of these foods? Every food item has its own unique challenges for producers, processors and consumers alike, and some of them may surprise you.

Oyster. The wrong shellfish can make people sick in some pretty wild ways, which is why seafood processors exercise extreme caution in testing them for food safety. Shellfish contaminated with marine biotoxins can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, diarrhetic shellfish poisoning and paralytic shellfish poisoning. You can imagine what the symptoms of these are.

Butter. As a dairy product, butter is usually derived from milk that has been pasteurized, or heat-treated to kill foodborne pathogens like E. coli. One study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that raw milk is 840 times more likely to make you sick — so be careful with what kind of milk you use to make your homemade butter.

Onion. There are a few old wives’ tales regarding onions and food safety — particularly the one that a bowl of cut onions will absorb all the germs in the air, protecting a home from illnesses. This is untrue. Though onions can become contaminated by foodborne pathogens and other contaminants, they don’t act as “germ magnets.”

Ice cube. Ice may be cold, meaning it inhibits the growth of bacteria, but did you know there is one foodborne bacterium that can thrive in cold? Listeria monocytogenes has a higher tolerance for cold stress, meaning it can grow in your fridge. Cooking and pasteurization can still kill it.

Garlic. Did you know that garlic shouldn’t be eaten by pets? Garlic, onions and chives (or anything containing their powders as an ingredient) aren’t safe for dogs and cats to consume. As members of the Allium family, they can damage the red blood cells of our pets.

Juice box. Like milk, juice also needs to be pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill foodborne pathogens. Fresh-squeezed, untreated juice may be contaminated. Young children, elderly individuals and anyone with a weakened immune system should especially watch out for these products.

Maté. This caffeinated, tea-like beverage is popular in South America and is traditionally sipped from a hollowed-out gourd. Since it’s made by placing herbs directly into hot water, a special straw is used as a filter. The process has a few bacteria kill-steps, as the herb is dried over a hot fire, and then brewed at a very hot temperature. Because the vessel containing some maté is food itself, it’s important to make sure the gourd has been cleaned and sealed safely.

Falafel. Though falafel is made with shelf-stable chickpeas, once cooked it runs the risk of fostering foodborne pathogens. Leftover falafel should be refrigerated within two hours, as bacteria can multiply quickly between 40°F and 140°F — the “danger zone.”

Waffle. Waffle mixes are sometimes recalled for contamination with foodborne pathogens. They contain powdered milk and flour, which present more food safety challenges than you might expect.

Last year gave food safety nerds a host of microbiology lab emojis to get excited about. With the introduction of 2019’s emojis, soon we’ll be able to communicate about food safety solely in icons. We’re only left wondering: What would a food safety emoji look like?

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