Food poisoning is a common and potentially serious health problem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
An estimated 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses every year, and of these, 3,000 people die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Whether cooking at home or eating out, you can take steps to make sure the food you eat is as safe as it is nutritious. Here are must-know safety tips for handling, cooking, and storing food to prevent food poisoning caused by bacteria such as salmonella.
Tips to Protect Yourself and Reduce Your Risk of Food Poisoning at Home
Prevent cross-contamination. When you’re food shopping, juices from raw meat, poultry, or seafood, which may harbor bacteria, can drip onto produce, increasing your risk of food poisoning from bacteria such as salmonella. Put meat and fish in plastic bags before putting them into your shopping cart to keep them separate from your fruits and vegetables. Have them bagged separately at the checkout, too, and then store these foods apart in your refrigerator.
When preparing food, cut up produce first or use a different cutting board for raw meats and fish, if possible. And be sure to wash your hands, cutting boards, countertops, and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw meat, poultry, or fish.
Always check the package date. When purchasing packaged food, be sure to check the expiration dates, especially on highly perishable items such as dairy, meat, and poultry products. Do not buy any food with an expiration date that has passed or use any food that smells bad. If you don’t notice a foul smell until you’re home and can open the package, call the store to ask about returning it.
Also avoid any packaged food that has a broken seal or wrap, and do not buy food in cans that have been dented or are bulging, as this may be an indication of bacterial contamination.
Store food safely to avoid food poisoning. Be sure to always refrigerate perishable foods as soon as possible. Foods that require refrigeration include meat, dairy, seafood, eggs, freshly prepared foods, and anything else that has a label saying it should be refrigerated after opening, such as mayonnaise.
Don’t leave food out for more than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is 90 degrees F or more. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F, and your freezer at 0 degrees F. And if you’re not certain about the safety of a food — if it just doesn’t smell or look right, for instance — use the old rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
First wash your hands. Handwashing before and during food preparation with soap and hot water is crucial for preventing food poisoning caused by bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. Be particularly careful about washing your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or picking up after a pet. Wash cutting boards and countertops frequently, especially after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or fish.
Keep sponges clean and germ-free by microwaving them for at least two minutes, and wash dish cloths frequently in very hot water in the washing machine or by hand.
Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat, poultry, or eggs. Washing produce helps remove harmful bacteria like E. coli from the surface of fruits and vegetables. To do so properly, first remove any parts that are bruised or damaged and rinse under running water. Do not use soap, bleach, or any commercial produce washes.
Firm produce like melons or cucumbers can be scrubbed with a clean produce brush. Washed fruits and veggies should be dried with a paper towel or clean cloth towel. Do not wash meat, poultry, or eggs, as this can actually spread bacteria.
Cook foods thoroughly. Heat kills germs. Use a meat thermometer to determine the temperature of food when cooking. Ground beef, veal, pork, and lamb should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Steaks should be cooked to 145 degrees F. Poultry is done at 165 degrees F. For more on cooking foods to the right temperature, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Education website.
When marinating foods, be sure to do so in the fridge instead of on the counter, where bacteria can multiply quickly. And never serve the marinade in which raw meat, poultry, or fish has been placed without cooking it to a boil first.
How To Minimize Restaurant Risks
Before you eat out, avoid the possibility of food poisoning by checking out the restaurant to make sure it looks clean. Make sure your food is fully cooked (avoid rare hamburgers and other partially cooked dishes). And steer clear of any dishes that may contain uncooked eggs, such as Caesar salad, because raw eggs may contain salmonella.
When taking home leftovers, make sure you get them into the refrigerator within two hours after your meal to minimize the risk of food poisoning.
Don’t Forget Food Safety on the Road
When packing food for a trip, be sure to use coolers, insulated bags, and ice packs to keep food cold and avoid the chance of food poisoning. When traveling by car in hot weather, store food in the air conditioned passenger compartment rather than in the hot trunk.
If you can’t get to a bathroom to wash your hands, be sure to clean them with a wet wipe or hand sanitizer before eating. These simple steps will minimize your risk of food poisoning and the spread of salmonella and other foodborne illnesses.