Food poisoning is quite easy to prevent if we follow some simple steps. Some people may not be aware of all the things we need to do when buying and handling food.
Foodborne illnesses may be quite mild, with the person recovering quickly. However, some foodborne diseases are very serious. Some people have even died from eating contaminated food.
There may be times when we blame a sickness on "stomach flu" but in reality it could be food poisoning. This can be particularly serious for kids, seniors or those who may have a weakened immune system.
Bacteria, pesticides, and enterotoxins are some of the causes of food poisoning. Meat and dairy products are often the cause, although other foods may be responsible too. It is important to know that food does not have to show obvious signs of spoilage in order to be contaminated. It might look and smell fine. This is why food safety practices are so important to follow.
Here are some things everyone should do to prevent foodborne illness.
Safe Handling of Raw Foods
We need to be thinking of food safety when we are shopping at the grocery store. We could be purchasing food that will make us sick. By keeping a few things in mind we can greatly reduce the risk of that happening.
Be sure to check expiry dates on everything you are planning to buy. This is particularly important when purchasing meat and dairy products. Most stores are diligent about removing expired products, but mistakes can happen. I have found food past the expiry date on more than one occasion. Some foods, such as eggs, are particularly vulnerable to contamination and should never be eaten past their expiry date.
You can save money on your grocery bill by purchasing things that are near the expiry date as long as you plan to eat them right away. Meat that is due to expire the next day may be reduced by as much as 50%, as the stores want to get rid of it. As long as you consume it that day or place in the freezer it will be ok. I find a lot of bargains at the meat counter this way and freeze it as soon as I get home, or cook it for dinner the same day.
When you are doing your grocery shopping, buy cheese, vegetables, and anything else that needs refrigeration last. If you are purchasing raw meat, keep it separated from other foods. The meat should be placed in a plastic bag at the check out register. This will prevent other food from becoming contaminated with raw meat juices.
Of course, you will want to get the groceries home as soon as possible and not leave them in a warm car. That's why I do my grocery shopping last thing before going home.
If you are planning on keeping raw meat in the refrigerator, it should be placed on the bottom shelf, preferably on a plate or in a bowl for the same reason. The juice contains a lot of potentially harmful bacteria.
Never leave raw meat on the kitchen counter to thaw. You can safely thaw it in the refrigerator or microwave. Bacteria will multiply rapidly when meat is left at room temperature, even when starting from a frozen state.
Use a separate cutting board for fruit and vegetables and raw meat. If you must use the same board, the meat should be cut last. Of course, the board should be sanitized after each use.
Fruit and vegetables should be washed well before consuming, even if they are organically grown. Alfalfa sprouts are particularly prone to carry bacteria. I don't usually peel fruit and vegetables unless they have a heavy skin, as we lose some of the vitamins and minerals. A lot of the nutrition is contained directly under the skin.
Hand Washing is Essential to Prevent Foodborne Illness
Good hand washing is very important before preparing food to avoid foodborne disease. Our hands carry a lot of germs which will be transferred to whatever we are planning to eat.
It is not necessary to use an antibacterial soap. In fact some believe the overuse of antibacterial cleaners is not effective. Regular soap is fine. I use a liquid rather than bar soaps as the bars will become contaminated with bacteria very quickly.
Health professionals suggest washing for at least ten seconds and use warm water.
Washing the hands well is one of the most important things to do to avoid food poisoning and other illnesses like influenza.
Safe Handling of Cooked Food
Foods such as eggs, fish, chicken and beef need to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature in order to ensure all bacteria has been destroyed. A thermometer takes the guess work out of deciding when something has been cooked enough. It isn't easy to tell when meat is cooked to a safe temperature just by looking at it. Appropriate temperatures vary depending on what you are cooking, but generally range from 145 to 165 degrees.
Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible. Bacteria grows at a rapid rate. Two hours is considered to be the maximum amount of time food can be left at room temperature, but I do not leave anything out that long.
This will also vary depending on room temperature, or if the food is outside on a warm day. The sooner you place leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer, the better.
If you are having a large gathering or hosting a potluck dinner, you may want to ask guests to bring their food in containers that will keep leftovers cold, unless you have plenty of room in the refrigerator.
Remember that food that appears to be fine to consume could already be contaminated. If you have any doubt as to whether something is still safe to eat, it is best to throw it out rather than take a chance. Foodborne disease can be very serious.
No one likes to waste food, but we don't want to get sick. It should not be fed to pets either, as they can become ill by eating contaminated food.
These steps important and will help prevent foodborne illness. Delicious food provides one of the pleasures in life, and with good habits we should never become sick from food we have eaten.