January 27, 2023

Fifteen Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning

Whenever there is a good poisoning outbreak, odds are that the outbreak notice will include some information about how consumers can protect themselves against contaminated food. While it is illegal for companies to sell food contaminated with enough pathogens to make someone ill, it happens all the time. These 15 tips to avoid food poisoning may help.

Fifteen Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning

Despite efforts from the federal government, industry, food processors, and farmers, the number of food poisoning cases in America isn’t going down. There are still about 48,000,000 cases of food poisoning every year in this country, with about 126,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

But there are things you can do to protect yourself and your family. In fact, there are (at least) 15 tips to avoid food poisoning.

Fifteen Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning

If you practice these tips and incorporate them in your daily kitchen habits, they will become routine. All of these tips are important to help reduce the  bacteria on your food and in your kitchen.

Avoid cross contamination

Cross-contamination is when foods that contain pathogens touch foods or surfaces that do not. Any food that my be contaminated with bacteria, including raw meats, poultry, fish, eggs, raw milk, sprouts, and uncooked flour, should be kept separate from other foods. Store these foods in the lower level of the refrigerator so they can’t drip on foods below.

Use a separate cutting board for raw meats and poultry and produce. Wash utensils and plates that held the raw versions of these foods before you prepare anything else. And never put cooked food onto a plate that held raw versions of that food.

Frozen raw breaded stuffed chicken needs a special note. There have been many outbreaks linked to those products because the breading can be contaminated, and it can easily fall off before preparation and contaminate countertops and utensils. Handle those foods with care.

Use a food thermometer

Use a food thermometer every time you cook. Get a reliable thermometer that is highly rated. Learn how to use a food thermometer: it should be inserted in the thickest part of the food.

And memorize the safe final internal temperatures of meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. They are: whole cuts of meat and pork: 145°F. Fish: 145°F. Egg dishes 160°F. Ground meats: 160°F. Chicken and turkey: 165°F. Ground chicken and turkey: 165°F

Wash hands. Often.

Washing your hands before cooking and while you are cooking should be second mature. Always wash your hands after you use the bathroom and after you care for someone who is ill. Wash your hands after you handle potentially contaminated foods, including raw meats, poultry, and eggs. And wash your hands before you serve food and eat.

Use soap and cleaning running water. Lather your hands for at least 20 seconds, rinse them off, and dry with a clean towel.

Sanitize sink and countertops

Your sink can be highly contaminated with pathogens, from rinsing produce to washing utensils. Your countertop can also be contaminated from contact with raw meats, flour, eggs, and other foods. Both should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

First rinse off the countertop and sink. Wash with soap, then rinse again. You may want to wash with a mild bleach solution; if you do, rinse thoroughly again and dry.

Don’t eat undercooked ground meat and eggs

Undercooked ground meat and eggs are two common foods that cause food poisoning. Avoid them.

Cuts of meat are often contaminated on the outside, from bacteria spread during the slaughtering process. Then when those cuts are ground, the bacteria on the surface spreads throughout the meat. If it is not cooked to a safe final internal temperature, enough bacteria can survive to make you sick.

And eggs can be contaminated on the inside, since hens may have bacteria in their ovaries. Cook meats and eggs to safe final internal temperatures, and check those temps with a food thermometer.

Grilling

Grilling can present special food safety dilemmas. Bring a food thermometer with you when you grill so you can check the temps of meats and poultry.

Avoid cross-contamination by always having clean plates to hold cooked food. If cooked food touches the raw juices of meat, it will be contaminated. And wash or clean the utensils while you are grilling, including the probe of the thermometer.

Avoid raw milk, juice, nuts, flour, sprouts

There are some foods that are inherently risky. They include raw milk, unpasteurized juices, raw nuts, flour, and raw sprouts. All of these foods have caused many outbreaks and illnesses just in the past ten  years.

Raw milk is often contaminated with pathogens because the cow’s udders are near her anus. Raw sprouts are often contaminated because the seeds can have bacteria inside them, and the sprouting environment is ideal for bacterial growth and they have been linked to many outbreaks. Flour is a raw agricultural product and can be contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella; don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter. Unpasteurized juices have caused outbreaks, as have raw nuts. If you are in a high risk group for serious complications from food poisoning, avoid these foods.

Thaw frozen meat in fridge

Always thaw frozen meat in the fridge, never on the counter. If it thaws on the counter it will linger in the danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F, too long. In that temperature range, bacteria can double every 20 minutes.

Thaw all frozen meats, including chicken, turkey, roasts, and ground meats, in the refrigerator. Allow enough time to thaw; the larger cuts can take several days.

Refrigerate promptly and reheat leftovers

Foods should lie refrigerated without two hours of being taken out of the fridge or the oven. After that time, the food will be in the temperature danger zone and bacterial counts will skyrocket. Watch the time when you start serving, and get the food into the fridge quickly.

That two hour time span falls to one hour if the air temperature is 90°F or higher.

And reheat leftovers to 165°F. Every time.

Pay attention to recalls and outbreaks

The FDA, USDA, and CDC announce food recalls and outbreaks every week. Pay attention to that information, and act on it if necessary. Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer when a recall is issued and discard that food immediately. Clean your fridge, pantry, and freezer throughly after you discard the food, and wash your hands.

Know the symptoms of food poisoning so if you are sick, you can get help early.

Don’t cook or serve when sick

Don’t cook food or serve people food when you’re sick, especially if you have a diarrheal illness. It’s all too easy to spread bacteria this way, even if you think you are being careful. And stay home from work or school when you’re sick.

Keep hot food hot and cold food cold

The danger zone comes into play here again. Hot foods should be kept hot by using warming trays or slow cookers. Keep an eye on the time and get those foods into the fridge after two hours. If you are serving a lot of people, stagger the timing of foods so you can offer food fresh from the oven during the party.

Cold foods should be kept cold on ice. And refrigerate them promptly too.

Don’t rinse chicken or turkey

It’s an old custom to rinse chicken and turkey before you cook it. But that’s a bad idea. Rinsing these birds will aerosolize the bacteria on them, and spread it up to three feet away from the faucet. That splash zone includes the sink, countertops, and you.

Simply pat the birds dry before you put them into the oven. The only way to get rid of the bacteria is to cook the birds.

Wash fruits and veggies before preparation

Always rinse fruits and veggies before you eat them and even before you prepare them. If there is bacteria on the peel, and you peel or cut the fruit or veg without rinsing them, you will spread the bacteria into the produce.

Scrub firm fleshed fruits and vegetables like melons and potatoes with a vegetable brush. And think about using my method for submerging melons in simmering water.

While rinsing will not remove all pathogens, it will reduce their number. That may be enough to prevent illness.

Think twice about deli food

If you are in a high risk group for serious complications from food poisoning, think twice about buying and eating deli foods. There is a long history of food poisoning outbreaks linked to deli meats and cheeses.

Some of these foods, such as soft cheeses, are inherently risky. And the deli equipment is often difficult to clean, so a contamination can spread from one food to another.

If you choose to consume deli foods, think about heating them to a safe temperature before eating.

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