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by Abigail Van Buren

Lax Food Safety Spoils Uncle's Culinary Skills

DEAR ABBY: My uncle, who is in his 80s, loves to cook and is very good at it. He took up cooking after my aunt died. He won't pay any attention to what I tell him, but he reads your column daily, so perhaps he will listen to you.

My uncle thaws his frozen meat and poultry in his gas oven, with only the pilot light. I have told him repeatedly that this is the way bacteria grows on meat, but he insists that cooking it will sterilize it.

He also leaves food on the buffet or the kitchen counter after he entertains, so that his guests can help themselves to "leftovers." It's sometimes left out all night.

Abby, he frequently gets an upset stomach, and I have a hunch that it's a mild case of food poisoning. Please, can you help me wise him up? He has tuned me out completely. -- LOVING NIECE IN OKLAHOMA CITY

DEAR LOVING NIECE: Your uncle is lucky to have such a caring niece. I hope he will listen to me. I checked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and according to Bessie Berry, the acting director of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, it's best to thaw food IN THE REFRIGERATOR where it will be maintained at a safe, constant temperature. That's because bacteria multiply rapidly between temperatures of 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and any bacteria that may have been present before the meat was frozen can begin to grow again.

Food should NEVER be left at room temperature for more than two hours -- and in weather above 90 degrees, the time should be reduced to one hour maximum. Leftover food should be placed in shallow containers and placed directly into the refrigerator or freezer. Theoretically, food is "sterilized" by the heat that cooks it. However, that is not true if the meat or poultry is not cooked thoroughly.

DEAR ABBY: Recently you printed a letter from a survivor of breast cancer whose tumor was not detected by mammography. She urged all women to do a breast self-examination (BSE) once a month and not to rely too heavily on mammography. I'm concerned that her comments may discourage some women from having mammograms.

Health professionals agree that BSE is a prudent practice, but women should not rely on it alone. Scientific studies have not shown that BSE is an effective method of reducing a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer.

While it is not foolproof, mammography is the only breast cancer early detection tool scientifically proven to save lives. The secretary of health and human services, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society ALL recommend routine mammograms for women age 40 and older.

The truth is, getting a mammogram regularly can save a woman's life. For a woman 40 or older, routine mammography can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 20 to 30 percent. However, mammography may be less effective for younger women, perhaps because their breast tissue is more dense.

Free or low-cost mammograms are available year-round through all 50 state health departments for women who meet age and income requirements. Readers should contact their state health departments to find out whether they meet those requirements.

Abby, thanks for your help in spreading the word about the importance of mammography. Your encouragement may help save lives. -- STEPHEN W. WYATT, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF CANCER PREVENTION AND CONTROL, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, ATLANTA

DEAR DR. WYATT: Thank you for taking the time to reinforce this important message. Readers, when I endorsed breast self-examination, it was with the intention that it be used in addition to (not instead of) an annual mammogram.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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