Food poisoning, an illness caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food, causes an estimated 48 million illnesses (representing one out of six Americans), 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.
With proper food safety practices you can lower your risk substantially, say experts.
“Whether whipping up dinner from scratch or simply reheating leftovers, there are important food safety practices you must remember,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Joan Salge Blake.
Salge Blake and the experts at the Academy are encouraging everyone to learn four simple steps for food safety during National Food Safety Education Month this September.
Without correct precautions, harmful bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen and be spread to food and family.
Wash hands for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water. Scrub the backs of your hands, between fingers and under your nails. Proper hand washing may eliminate nearly half of all cases of food poisoning and significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.
Use hot, soapy water to wash surfaces and utensils after each use, including appliances, countertops and cutting boards. Don’t forget dishcloths and towels. Wash them frequently on the hot cycle of your washing machine. Disinfect sponges in a chlorine bleach solution and replace worn sponges frequently.
Cross-contamination occurs when juices or bacteria from raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Keep these items separate from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags and refrigerator. Place them in plastic bags to prevent juices from leaking, and on the refrigerator’s bottom shelf, so their juices don’t drip on other foods.
As you cook, keep raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods by using different cutting boards, plates and utensils.
“Many people think they can tell when food is done simply by checking its color and texture, but one out of every four hamburgers turn brown before reaching a safe temperature,” says Salge Blake.
A food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure food has been cooked to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Internal cooking temperatures vary from food to food.
Cooling foods promptly and properly slows the growth of harmful bacteria and helps prevent food poisoning. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the refrigerator is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and the freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Tasting just a tiny bit of contaminated food can cause serious illness, so toss all expired foods. If you’re unsure, remember: when it doubt, throw it out.
Check out free resources, including the Is My Food Safe? app and the information available at HomeFoodSafety.org.
Food poisoning is a serious concern that can often be avoided. Use National Food Safety Education Month as an opportunity to learn more.