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What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You. Simple Tips to Prevent Food Poisoning. E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

Killer Food?

Almost everyone has experienced a food borne illness at some point in time. But do we only get sick from restaurant food? No, in fact many cases of food borne illnesses occur when food is prepared at home.

Contaminated or food not cleaned can be very dangerous, especially to children and the elderly.

Food borne illnesses can cause fever, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, and even death.

Each year food borne illnesses kill up to 9,000 people. Approximately 80 million Americans, or about 1 in 3 people are affected annually.

Food Safety Tips

If food is handled and prepared safely, most of those can be avoided. The following tips regarding shopping, preparing, serving and storing food should help ensure that the foods you buy, cook and eat are safe and healthy:

Shopping Tips

  • Shop for groceries when you can take food home right away so that it does not spoil in a hot car.When shopping always make sure that you buy the freshest fruits,vegetables, meats and processed foods (if you buy processed foodsat all!).
  • When purchasing fish inspect the meat (and fish) and check the sell by date.  Look for fish that looks fresh and that doesn't  smell.  Check the sell by date to make sure that it is still be available for sale. When purchasing meat and poultrt, always inspect the meat (and fish) and check the sell by date.  Look for meat that looks fresh and that doesn't  smell.
  • Check the sell by date to make sure that it is still be available for sale. Other foods such as dairy and cheese need to have a stamped sell by date, so make sure you check it out.  You might once in a while find spoiled cheese or dairy product, so be vigilant.
  • When shopping buy perishable food such as meat, eggs, and milk last.
  • Avoid spreading bacteria to other foods. Separate raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing, and storing.

Hygiene Tips

  • Wash your hands with hot running water and soap. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Leave the water running while you dry your hands on a paper towel.
  • Use the paper towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.
  • If using the gel sanitizer, rub your hands until the gel is dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol in the gel kills the germs on your hands.
  • Always wash your hands after:
  • Touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed parts of your arms.
    • Using the bathroom.
    • Coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or disposable tissue.
    • Eating, drinking, or using tobacco (for example, smoking).
    • Handling soiled kitchen utensils or equipment.
    • Handling other soiled or contaminated utensils or equipment.
    • Handling or preparing foods, especially after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
    • Changing diapers, handling garbage, using the phone, shaking hands, or playing with pets.

Food Preparation Tips

  • When at home, make sure that you wash all food before consuming. This includes food that you will be cooking such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry.  Many vegetables and fruit can still have insecticides on them.
  • Do NOT thaw food on counters and leave overnight.  This can create a breeding ground for bacteria and food borne illness. Just ONE bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, could grow to 64 bacteria in two hours and 2,097,152 bacteria in seven hours!
  • If perishable foods, such as meat, are left at room temperature too long, bacteria may grow and produce heat resistant toxins that can cause food-borne illness. Cooking may not be able to destroy these toxins.
  • It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Larger foods may take longer — allow approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight. For faster thawing, place food in a leakproof plastic bag and immerse bag in COLD water. Change the water every 30 minutes to assure it stays cold. DO NOT use hot water.
  • After thawing,refrigerate the food until ready to use. Food thaws in cold water at the rate of approximately a pound per half hour.
  • Thaw packages of raw meat, poultry or fish on plates on lower shelves of refrigerators to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods.
  • If food is thawed in the microwave, cook it right away. Unlike food thawed in a refrigerator, microwave-thawed foods reach temperatures that encourage bacterial growth. Cook immediately to kill any bacteria that may have developed and to prevent further bacterial growth.
  • Clean hands and food-contact surfaces before preparing, cooking, or eating food.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish away from other foods, surfaces, utensils, and serving plates.
  • Meat and poultry should not be rinsed or washed. Rinsing and washing these foods may cause bacteria that are present on their surfaces to spread to ready-to-eat foods, kitchen utensils and food-contact surfaces.
  • Keep kitchen surfaces clean with hot, soapy water. Wash dishcloths and towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • When preparing fresh foods make sure you cut and prepare them on a clean surface.  Don't let one food come in contact with another food, it may contaminate the food.
  • When cutting/trimming meets and fish do NOT use the same cutting board and utensils after the meet, fish or produce has been cooked (or cleaned).  Doing so can cross contaminate your food and make you sick.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood and another one for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after coming in contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and unwashed fresh produce.
  • After cutting raw meats, poultry, fish or seafoods wash your cutting board with hot, soapy water and disinfect it with a bleach solution. Use 1 teaspoon of bleach per 1 quart [32 fl oz (946 mL)] of water, or according to the label directions. You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them. Replace cutting boards once they have become worn or have developed hard-to-clean grooves.Marinate foods in a covered dish in the refrigerator, not on the counter.Marinades used on raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood should never be tasted or reused on cooked foods.
  • Always place cooked food on a clean plate.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables with clean water before cooking or serving.
  • With meats, fish, egg, egg products and poultry it is necessary for the item to reach a certain temperature before it is safe for human consumption.  Cook meat, poultry, and fish to safe internal temperatures to destroy the bacteria.
  • Use a food thermometer to determine whether the meat, poultry, and fish have been cooked to safe internal temperatures to destroy the bacteria. Just because meat may be brown on the inside doesn’t mean it has reached 160°F.  A food thermometer is the only way to accurately determine a safe internal temperature is reached.
  • Cook poultry until it has an internal temperature of  at least180°F.
  • Cook ground meat to at least 160°F. This is especially critical with hamburger meat.
  • When cooking your meats and poultry read the directions for product and cook it thoroughly.
  • Never eat rare poultry.
  • Cook fish until it is opaque or white and flaky.
  • Do not eat raw or partially cooked eggs.
  • Cook eggs until they are firm and not runny.
  • Always reheat leftover refrigerator to the proper internal temperature.

Food Storage

  • The refrigerator should be set at no higher than 40°F and the freezer at 0°F, and these temperatures should be checked with an appliance thermometer.
  • Most foodborne bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of 40°F and 140°F. To keep food out of this danger zone, keep cold food cold (below 40°F) and hot food hot (above 140°F).
  • Store all ready-to-eat foods at 40o F or lower.
  • Do not leave perishable foods out for more than two hours. Chill perishable foods promptly.
  • Properly store and cook meat, poultry, and dairy products.  Failure to do so can cause listeriosis; an illness caused by a harmful bacterium, listeria, that can grow in the refrigerator and survive freezing but is destroyed with thorough cooking. Note: Ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, soft cheeses, deli-style meats and poultry are foods associated with listeria. Older adults, newborns, pregnant  women, and those with weakened immune systems are considered at risk because they are more susceptible to listeriosis a potentially life–threatening illness caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Prevent spreading harmful bacteria from one food to another. Separate raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood from other foods in your refrigerator. Prevent juices from raw meat, poultry, fish, or seafood from dripping onto other foods in your refrigerator, by placing these raw foods in sealed containers or plastic bags. Place these foods on the lowest shelf, never above ready-to-eat foods.
  • Clean the refrigerator often. Refrigerator surfaces can become contaminated from high–risk foods such as raw meats, poultry, fish, uncooked hot dogs, certain deli meats, or raw vegetables. If not cleaned, contaminated refrigerator surfaces can, in turn, serve as a vehicle for contaminating other foods.
  • Refrigerated leftovers may become unsafe within 3 to 4 days. Despite the appearance of a food, it may not be safe to eat. Not all bacterial growth causes a food’s surface to discolor or smell bad. One rule of thumb, if you have a cat and the cat won’t eat the item, it is probably not good for you to eat either. “If in doubt—throw it out.”

Other Food Safety Tips

  • Do not eat or drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from unpasteurized milk, raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs, raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, unpasteurized juices, and raw sprouts.
  • Use perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Hot dogs and luncheon meats should be reheated until steaming hot.
  • Canned paté and meat spreads can be eaten, but do not eat refrigerated paté or meat spreads.
  • Canned seafood can be eaten. Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is used in a dish that will be cooked before eaten.
  • Basically use common sense when storing and eating stored food. Best rule to follow: “When in doubt, throw it out”. It is much cheaper to throw out bad food than it is to pay expensive medical bills or miss work.

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