Food poisoning, or food-borne illness, affects an astonishing number of Americans every year – approximately 48 million. In many cases, it can be prevented, but food safety often gets overlooked until after someone has already gotten sick.
Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, and even parasites can make people extremely ill, causing painful and uncomfortable symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. The contamination can occur at any point of the food processing, from packaging to preparation and even after it’s been cooked and stored; there’s not much you can do about food that is contaminated before it gets to you, but proper sanitation and handling is essential.
One of the easiest steps to take is to wash your hands, tools, and kitchen surfaces regularly with soap and warm water: harmful organisms can survive and grow on cutting boards, utensils, and countertops and be transferred to other food or back to your hands.
Foods that will be eaten raw, and all fruits and vegetables, should be washed thoroughly and scrubbed if necessary. This helps remove dirt, pesticides, and bacteria, and viruses. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw or prepared food away from uncooked foods and the utensils used to prepare them.
When defrosting frozen foods like poultry or fish, do so in the refrigerator, not by leaving it out at room temperature; this is especially important during warm weather.
Uncooked or undercooked foods like eggs, meat, poultry and fish can lead to food poisoning, so cooking them to the appropriate temperature is important, and you can’t always tell if it has been just by seeing if it looks “done”. Using a food thermometer can help you accurately gauge if foods have been thoroughly cooked: 145 F for whole pieces of meat, 160 F for ground meat, and 165 F for poultry.
Infectious organisms can grow on food even after it’s been cooked. Proper and prompt storage is essential: pack the food up and get into the refrigerator within two hours – one hour when the weather is warm.
Finally, when in doubt, throw it out. If you’re unsure whether food has gone bad or may have been contaminated, it’s better to toss it than risk eating it.