Food-borne Illness: Tips For Playing It Safe
Food-borne illnesses are not entirely avoidable, but you can greatly lower your risks when armed with the proper knowledge and tools for prevention.
Spinach, ground beef, serrano peppers, and peanut butter are not words that should incite fear, but due to a rash of illnesses relating to these products, they now do. According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 76 million people get sick and 5,000 people die annually from food-borne illnesses in the United States.
Common Causes of Food Illness
Food contamination generally occurs when food is produced or stored in unsanitary conditions or is improperly handled. The adulteration of these foods can originate on farms and in slaughterhouses, processing and production plants, grocery stores, restaurants, and even homes. Dangerous food pathogens are typically flavorless and undetectable to the eye, so a basic awareness of the factors that can lead to food-borne illnesses can substantially reduce the risk of getting one.
Go With Your Gut
If a grocery store or restaurant looks or feels dirty, it probably is, particularly in the areas that you can't see. Unsanitary conditions invite pathogen growth and greatly increase the potential for food contamination. If you have doubts about your food supplier's cleanliness practices, go with your instincts and eat or shop elsewhere.
Prevention Means Informed Shopping
Here are some tips to help you make the right choices at the grocery store.
- Inspect packages of meat, poultry, and fish for freshness by checking expiration dates and for signs of aging such as off color, odor, and pools of liquid in the bottom.
- When buying from a butcher, point out the specific pieces that you want and ask to see and smell them before purchasing.
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are firm to the touch and do not have damaged or broken skins.
- Check egg cartons for expiration dates and inspect eggs for cracks.
- Avoid cans that are dented or bulging and jars that are cracked or have loose or distended lids.
Protecting Your Home Plate
Follow these guidelines to help avoid food-borne illnesses from originating in your home.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with hot water and soap.
- Maintain cleanliness by wiping up spills immediately and cleaning all areas of the kitchen after cooking.
- Use paper towels to clean up drips and spills.
- Use a washable rag for dishes, instead of a sponge, and clean or replace it frequently.
- Use different cutting boards for raw meat, fish, and poultry and for fruits and vegetables.
- Thoroughly wash cutting boards with very hot, soapy water, or in the dishwasher, after using.
- Periodically sanitize cutting boards and counters using a mild bleach and water solution.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with a soft scrub brush under cold running water, even if you are discarding peels and skins.
- Check refrigerator and freezer temperatures for proper settings (40 degrees and 0 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.)
- Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or under cold running water.
- When cooking foods, follow proper procedures and cook to recommended internal temperatures.
- After eating a meal, cover food tightly and place in the refrigerator or freezer for storage.
An Ounce Of Prevention
Avoiding a food-borne illness is not always possible, but knowledge, common sense, and diligence can help you sidestep potentially disastrous consequences.