According the the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases" (source).
Many of these foodborne illnesses can be prevented with some basic sanitation.
Over the years, we've spent a lot of time researching food safety and food poisoning prevention. Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University, has written countless articles from all angles at our sister blog with the Nutrition Education Store.
Now I'd like to share a collection of Cheryle's top tips with you. Each article is full of handouts, tips and tricks, and common-sense ways to reduce the risk of contamination in your kitchen. Check out the excerpts below, or click on the links to access the full articles...
Handwashing is considered the number one way to prevent foodborne illness. The CDC calls handwashing a “do-it-yourself” vaccine that you can do to reduce the spread of illness. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities (like going to the restroom) is one of the best ways to remove germs and prevent the spread of germs to others.
Once cut, all fruits and vegetables need to be refrigerated for safety. After a fruit or vegetable has been cut, its barrier to the outside world has been broken and the plant’s natural defenses have been compromised. This opens the food up to the environment. Plus, the moisture and natural sugars in fruits and vegetables help create a great place for bacteria to grow. Refrigerator temperatures, on the other hand, can help slow this development of bacteria.
Packages frequently have words like “best by” or “use by” on them. Note that they don’t say “do not eat“ after this date. Those dates are provided by the food manufacturers as a way for you to judge the quality and freshness of the product. This is not necessarily a food safety date. “Sell by” dates should be taken seriously, especially with fresh items. Make an effort to use the foods close to this date. However, these “sell by” dates do not necessarily mean that the food in your refrigerator needs to be destroyed after those dates.
There are lots of ways to judge doneness, but they’re not equally effective. I know that many people use the meat’s color as their guide, but you can’t really rely on meat’s appearance to tell whether it’s done. The color of cooked ground beef can be quite variable. At 160 degree Fahrenheit (F), a safely-cooked patty may look brown, pink, or somewhere in-between. When a patty is cooked to 160 degrees F throughout, it can be safe and juicy, regardless of color.
With the size of many restaurant portions these days, it’s only wise to bring part of your food home for another meal… or possibly two. Whether you’re really taking the food home for the dog or yourself, it’s also important to keep it safe. That’s where the “two hour rule” comes in.
Perishable food left at room temperature for more than two hours may become unsafe to eat. Remember, it becomes the “one hour rule” when temperatures are hotter than 90 degrees outside. Think about how hot the inside of a car can get. Bacteria grow very quickly at these temperatures.
We don’t usually think of flour as a “risky” food and it’s rare for someone to get sick from flour, but there is a chance and it has happened. Since flour is made from wheat that is obviously grown outdoors, it does have the potential to contain bacteria. A foodborne illness from flour usually doesn’t happen because flour is primarily used in foods that are cooked and bacteria are destroyed by heat. The concern about the flour in raw cookie dough is a deadly bacteria called E. coli.
The reality is that putting frozen food in a slow cooker provides an excellent opportunity for bacteria to grow as the food and the slow cooker make their way slowly through the temperature danger zone (TDZ) to a safe minimum internal temperature.
Potlucks are where food safety strategies often break down. Foods sit out for far too long at the wrong temperature, and people can easily contaminate a dish by grabbing a serving with their hands or double-dipping. When I can, I avoid potlucks or turn them into “teachable moments.”
Just because it’s a holiday and your refrigerator is full does not mean that the “two-hour rule” isn’t in effect. Food should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Two hours is enough time for bacteria to multiply to the quantity that could cause foodborne illnesses. This is cumulative too. If you leave the leftovers on the dining room table for one hour, then later leave them out on the counter for 30 minutes to make sandwiches, you will only have a half-hour window left.
The temperatures are creeping up outside, and this nice weather means that lots of people will want to have outdoor barbecues, picnics, and pot lucks. These can be a total blast, but I often worry about the extra food safety concerns that accompany these rising temperatures.
And if you're hungry for more food safety tips, don't miss these amazing resources...
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.