Did you know that food poisoning will affect as many as 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) this year, with over 100,000 requiring trips to the hospital? Symptoms range from abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, vision problems, fever, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness, among others. The onset time of food poisoning after ingestion can take from 8 hours to 14 days, depending on the organism causing the food or water contamination. The types of organisms causing food poisoning are bacteria and viruses; parasites; mold, toxins and contaminants; and allergens.
The long-term health consequences of food poisoning can cause kidney failure, chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and even lead to death. Three thousand Americans die from food poisoning each year! How can you keep your family safe from food poisoning?
The 4 steps recommended by FoodSafety.gov are:
CLEAN– Wash hands and surfaces often and the correct way. Teach your family to wash their hands by wetting their hands with water and soap, rubbing their hands together to lather and scrub all the surfaces of their hands, including under the nails, for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
Then, rinse well under running water and dry hands with a clean towel or air dry. Ask your children to wash their hands before eating at school or restaurants. You need to wash your hands before, during, and after food preparation, before and after treating a wound, before and after caring for anyone who is sick, before and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices, after touching an animal or animal waste, after touching garbage and using the toilet.
Wash surfaces and utensils after each use. Use paper towels or clean clothes to wipe surfaces. Wash cloths need to be laundered often in hot water. Wash counter tops, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes in hot, soapy water after each food item is prepared and before you begin working with the next food item. To sanitize surfaces, as an additional precaution, you can mix 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach with a gallon of water and wash surfaces and utensils. Wash fruits and vegetables, but not meat, poultry or eggs.
After cutting away damaged areas of produce, rinse it under running water without using soap, bleach, or commercial produce washes. Using a clean produce brush, scrub firm produce like cucumbers or melons. Using paper towels or a clean cloth, dry your produce. If you purchase bagged produce that is marked as “pre-washed”, it is safe to use it without washing it again. Do not wash meat, poultry and eggs. Commercial eggs are washed before sale and washing them again can increase the risk of cross- contamination. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause their juices to contaminate your sink and counter tops and is not recommended.
SEPARATE– Don’t cross contaminate! You may have cleaned your hands and surfaces, but raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood can still spread bacteria to other foods. Use separate cutting boards and dishes for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Wash thoroughly any boards, utensils, etc. that have touched raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood. Replace worn or deeply grooved cutting boards that retain bacteria.
Do not cross contaminate other foods in your grocery cart or bags with meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. These foods should be kept in separate plastic bags to keep juices from dripping on other foods. The same holds true in your refrigerator. Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood in sealed plastic bags or containers. Freeze them if you are not planning to use them within a few days. Keep eggs in their original carton in the main compartment of your refrigerator…NOT on the door.
COOK– Cook food to the correct temperature. The most dangerous temperature range for multiplying bacteria in food is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your refrigerated foods should be below40 degrees and cooked foods should be 140 degrees or above. The only way to be sure of a food’s temperature is to use a food thermometer. The website www.FoodSafety.gov offers tips on thermometer placement tips, minimum cooking temperature charts, slow cookers, and much more.
Always wash the thermometer in hot, soapy water after each use. Keep food hot after cooking at 140 degrees or higher. Bacterial growth increases as food cools, so keep cooked foods hot by using a warming tray, slow cookers, or chafing dishes. Microwave food to a temperature of 165 degrees or higher. Make sure you stir foods in the middle of cooking and let them stand the amount of time indicated in the cooking instructions. After waiting, check the food with a thermometer to make sure it measures 165 degrees or higher before eating.
CHILL– Refrigerate food promptly. Within 2 hours, bacteria can grow in perishable foods! In the summer if temperatures rise to 90 degrees or higher, it only takes one hour. Do not overstuff your refrigerator with food to allow cold air to circulate. Keep your refrigerator between 32 degrees and 40 degrees and use an appliance thermometer to check it. Store leftovers in clean, shallow containers which will facilitate cooling within 2 hours. Freezing does not kill bacteria, but it can keep food safe until you cook it. Your freezer temperature should be 0 degrees or below. An appliance thermometer can make sure that the freezer is cool enough.
One of the riskiest things that you can do is to thaw or marinate food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, cooking by the next day; or in cold water, changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave, cooking immediately, instead. You can also cook frozen food by increasing the cooking time by 50%.
Throw food out before dangerous bacteria can grow. Most foods should be refrigerated no more than 3-5 days and then thrown out. Leftovers should be disposed of in 3 -4 days. Fresh poultry and ground meats should be cooked within 1-2 days. Most frozen foods should be used within 1 to 2 months while some meats can safely stay frozen longer.
Refer to Food Safety – Storage Times for an excellent chart showing refrigerator and freezer storage times for different food groups. Clean, separate, cook, and chill foods to keep your family safe from food poisoning. Bon Appetite!
Additional Resources: FoodSafety.gov
Watch the “Clean”, “Separate”, “Cook”, and “Chill” videos. Watch the “Recipe for Disaster”- short, funny videos on food safety topics.