Article at a Glance
- Food poisoning causes 76 million illnesses every year and 5,000 deaths.
- By taking extra care in how you store and prepare your food, you can greatly reduce the chances that you and your family will get food poisoning.
Did you know that there is a one in six chance that you will get food poisoning this year? In the U.S. food poisoning causes 76 million illnesses, sends 100,000 people to the hospital, and results in 5,000 deaths every year. Food poisoning can also cause long-term health problems like arthritis, nerve problems, and kidney failure.
But food poisoning is most well known for the sheer misery it creates. While in its grip, there is very little people wouldn’t do to alleviate their suffering. Luckily there is a lot you can do beforehand to prevent it from happening in the first place.
At the Store: Food safety begins at the store. It is important to carefully check food and make sure it gets home safely.
- When buying items like meat, fish, chicken, and dairy products, be sure to check the expiration date. Carefully examine the food for anything that looks or smells strange. Check for any tears in the packaging. Don’t forget to look inside egg cartoons to make sure the eggs are clean and not cracked.
- Shop for the most perishable items last so that they don’t spend as much time in your shopping cart at room temperature.
- Consider using a cooler in your car if the weather is particularly hot or if your house is more than an hour a way.
- Check fruit to be sure that the skin isn’t broken.
In the Fridge: When you get back from the store, put away any refrigerated or frozen items first. It is important to refrigerate perishable foods or leftovers within two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90℉).
- The temperature in your refrigerator should be between 32℉ and 40℉ to prevent bacteria from growing. The freezer should be set at 0℉ or below.
- Keep leftovers in smaller, shallower containers. This will allow food to cool more quickly.
- Don’t store eggs in your refrigerator door—it doesn’t keep them cold enough.
- Don’t allow the juices from meat, poultry, and fish to get on other foods. Store them in separate plastic bags or containers.
- Over filling your refrigerator can prevent the cold air from circulating properly.
- Make sure you freeze any meat, poultry or fish within one to two days.
- Be sure to toss out food before it goes bad. And just because it doesn’t smell bad or hasn’t grown mold doesn’t mean it is okay to eat. For more information on how long you can store specific foods visit the Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer Chart at foodsafety.gov
In the Kitchen: When preparing your food you will want to focus not only on cleaning your food well, but also on preventing any cross contamination.
Some Tips on Preparing Produce:
- Wash any produce in running water—even foods that you plan on peeling. Bacteria, dirt, and pesticides can easily be transferred from the peel to the inside of the fruit.
- Wash leafy greens like lettuce and spinach with extra care. You should remove the outer leaves and make sure that each leaf is carefully washed.
- Wash firm produce like carrots, potatoes, and melons with a produce brush.
- Cut away any areas that are damaged or bruised.
Some Tips on Preparing Raw Eggs, Meat, Poultry, and Fish:
- Remember to wash your hands before and after with hot water and soap. Also wash your hands if you are switching between foods or before touching any other surfaces. Don’t dry your hands on a dishtowel, but use disposable paper towels instead.
- Keep separate cutting boards for meat, poultry, and fish. And use separate utensils while cooking and serving.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods. Be sure to clean any prep areas thoroughly. Wash bowls that contained raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs thoroughly before using them for cooked food.
- Don’t leave raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs out on the counter.
- Don’t wash raw meat off in the sink. Splashing juices can contaminate your sink and countertop.
- Do not allow meat to defrost or marinate at room temperature. Use the refrigerator or microwave instead.
- Make sure food is thoroughly cooked. Juices should run clear and the meat should no longer be pink. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat has been cooked long enough.
During Clean Up: After you are done cooking, it is important to clean up properly.
- Keep any prepared food either hot or quickly refrigerate it to prevent the growth of bacteria.
- Wash cutting boards separately from other utensils and dishes. Make sure they are properly disinfected by scrubbing them with a bleach solution.
- Wash off all counter surfaces with hot water and soap or other cleaning solution.
- Avoid using sponges because they can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Be sure to frequently switch out and wash any dishrags or towels.
- Don’t forget to sanitize your sink, garbage disposal, and drain. The kitchen sink is actually one of the dirtiest places in the home. When you wash produce off in the sink, make sure it doesn’t touch the sink.
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