July 2, 2015

Food Safety Tips

Safety Corner

That buffet table at your next outdoor party or barbecue may do more than just ruin your diet. 

Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illness reported in the U.S. That comes out to about one in six people getting sick from eating foods that have bacteria, parasites and viruses living in them – yuck! 

What’s more, it is estimated that of those cases, 128,000 require hospitalization, and 3,000 result in death. 

Proper food handling and cooking practices kill most of these harmful organisms before they can do harm to our bodies. However, if food is undercooked or left out on countertops for too long, the risk for contracting a foodborne illness rises. 

Fortunately, following some simple steps can keep you and your guests from becoming sick due to contaminated or undercooked food:

  • Wash your hands before, while and after preparing food. Use a gel hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Keep your cooking area clean. Wash knives, cutting boards and counters with hot, soapy water, or put dirty cooking utensils in the dishwasher and use a disinfectant on countertops. 
  • Prevent germs found on raw meat (salmonella, E. coli) from getting onto fruits, vegetables and other foods by storing and preparing them separately. In the refrigerator, cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be stored on shelves above raw meats. Once meat is cooked, put it on a clean platter, not the same one it was on when raw. 
  • Make sure items like meat (including chicken, turkey and pork), fish and eggs, are fully cooked. A good guide can be found here
  • When serving foods, keep hot foods hot (at 135 degrees or above) and cold foods cold (at 40 degrees or below). Use a different set of utensils for each dish. 
  • Store leftovers right away. Refrigerate or freeze foods within two hours of preparing. Refrigerated foods should stay below 40 degrees, so load your cooler with enough ice or ice packs to maintain this temperature. Transport coolers in an air-conditioned car, not in a hot trunk. Be sure to clean coolers thoroughly before and after use. 
  • If you don’t plan on keeping leftovers, hot foods can be left out for four hours and cold foods for six hours. Discard immediately afterward. 
  • When in doubt, throw it out. 

If you do get food poisoning, there is not much you can do but wait for the germ to pass through your body. 

Most cases of food poisoning are mild and go away within a few days. But some types can be more serious and cause symptoms such as high fever, breathing difficulties and blood in your stool. 

Talk to your primary care physician if you don’t feel better after one week of at-home treatment or if your symptoms get worse.