February 27, 2018
If you’ve ever been an unlucky victim of food poisoning, you know just how awful it can be. With symptoms like abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting, this illness is highly unpleasant. Most food-borne illnesses are caused by bacteria found in things like meat, fish, eggs, and seafood, and can produce severe symptoms. The good news? There are simple precautions you can take to avoid food-borne illnesses while preparing food at home. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe:
Cross-contamination accounts for a large portion of food-borne illnesses. Essentially, when raw food and ready-to-eat food come into contact with each other, you put your meals at risk. Avoiding cross-contamination begins at the grocery store — make sure to keep raw food (meat, poultry, eggs, seafood) and ready-to-eat food like fresh produce in separate plastic bags to avoid any transfer of bacteria.
Believe it or not, how you store meat plays a role in food poisoning. Raw meat and poultry should always be kept in tightly sealed containers placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This helps to avoid the risk of these raw items dripping onto other food. In addition, make sure that your cooked and raw meat do not touch each other.
It’s important to know that while freezers can keep food safe until it’s ready to be cooked, harmful bacteria will not be completely destroyed. It’s recommended that when it comes time to defrost frozen food, use a microwave, fridge, or cold water to gradually increase temperature and facilitate the defrosting process.
Another potential culprit of contamination is your cutting board. Like your shopping cart, keep raw food away from cooked food to avoid the transfer of bacteria. The best way to do this is to use a different cutting board for anything raw and cooked. You should also use separate plates and utensils, and thoroughly wash anything that was in contact with raw food before using again.
Always make sure that your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature before enjoying it. As a general rule, cook whole meats to 145 °F, ground meats to 160 °F, and poultry to 165 °F. Oftentimes, it’s hard to tell whether meat is fully cooked based on appearance alone, so be sure to use a food thermometer to get a reliable reading.
When it comes to meat, egg dishes, and seafood, the “Danger Zone” refers to the spectrum of 40 to 140°F where harmful bacteria multiples the quickest. Therefore, food should not be left out too long in this temperature range. Keep leftovers cold at or below 40 °F and keep hot food at 140 °F or above. Hot food that will be consumed later can be kept out of the Danger Zone with the help of warming trays, slow cookers, and more.
Your own logic goes a long way. Don’t eat anything perishable that’s been left out for over two hours, avoid anything that smells or has a bad taste, always rinse produce, stay away from things like raw cookie dough or batter that contains uncooked eggs, adhere to expiration dates, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after cooking. Being aware of potential danger is a major component of food safety.
Food-borne illnesses can be miserable, but they don’t have to be commonplace. By taking proper precautions and making smart decisions, you can keep yourself and your family safe when you’re handling, storing, or preparing food in the comfort of your own home.