Preventing Foodborne Illness
- Illness-causing germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, and cutting boards.
- Studies have shown that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types
of infection and illness—including foodborne illness.
- This quick handwashing demonstration will show you the right way to wash your hands.
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
- This quick handwashing demonstration will show you the right way to wash your hands.
- Food Safety experts (including USDA) do NOT recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking to prevent the spread of bacteria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning, is a common, costly - yet preventable - public health problem. Each year, about one in six Americans get sick, due to a foodborne illness. Everyone is at risk for food poisoning, but you can reduce your risk if you know what to do. Food poisoning can happen anywhere, to anyone, and from foods we might not expect.
It doesn’t have to happen, though. Many cases could be avoided if people just handled food properly. So here’s what to do.
When you go shopping, buy cold food last, get it home fast.
- When you’re out, grocery shop last. Take food straight home to the refrigerator. Never leave food in a hot car!
- Don’t buy anything you won’t use before the use by date.
- Don’t buy food in poor condition.
- Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch.
- Frozen food should be rock solid.
- Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids which can indicate a serious food poisoning threat.
When you store food, keep it safe, refrigerate.
Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer. You can buy one of these at most stores that sell housewares. To keep bacteria in check, the refrigerator should run at 40°F, the freezer unit at 0°F. Keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without freezing your milk or lettuce.
- Freeze fresh meat, poultry, or fish immediately if you can’t use it within a few days.
- Put packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish on a plate before refrigerating so their juices won’t drip on other food. Raw juices often contain bacteria.
When you prepare food, keep everything clean and thaw in refrigerator.
- Wash hands in hot soapy water before preparing food, after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
- Harmful bacteria multiply quickly in kitchen towels, sponges, and cloths. Wash cloth items often in the hot cycle in your machine. Consider using paper towels to clean up meat and poultry juices. Avoid sponges or place them in the dishwasher daily to kill bacteria.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and fish and their juices away from other food. For instance, wash your hands, cutting board, knife, and countertop in hot soapy water after cutting up the chicken and before slicing salad ingredients. Also use hot soapy water to wash sink and faucet handles the raw meat or your “meat-covered” hands have touched.
- Use plastic cutting boards rather than wooden ones. Wash cutting boards thoroughly after use. Replace plastic cutting boards when they become badly grooved.
- Thaw food in the microwave or refrigerator, NOT on the kitchen counter. Also, marinate in the refrigerator.
- Food Safety experts do NOT recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Many bacteria are quite loosely attached and when you rinse these foods the bacteria will be spread around your kitchen.
Researchers at Drexel University have shown that it is best to move meat and poultry straight from package to pan, since the heat required for cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.
But what about a whole turkey? USDA does not recommend washing a whole turkey before you cook your Thanksgiving meal. You are likely to spread germs around your kitchen if you do so. The only reason a whole turkey (or any meat or poultry for that matter) should be washed is if it was brined. Thanksgiving cooks who are purchasing a brined turkey, or brining their turkeys at home, must rinse the brine off before the turkey goes into the oven.
When you’re cooking, cook thoroughly.
It takes thorough cooking to kill harmful bacteria, so you’re taking chances when you eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are raw or only partially cooked.
- Cook red meat to 145°F and let rest for 3 minutes before slicing. Cook poultry to 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to check that it’s cooked all the way through.
- Ground meat, where bacteria can spread throughout the meat during processing, should be cooked to at least 160°F. Color is no longer considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety.
- Salmonella, a bacteria that causes food poisoning, can grow inside fresh, unbroken eggs. So cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Scramble eggs to a firm texture. Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
Refer to the safe minimum cooking temperature chart.
When you’re microwaving, do it safely.
A great time saver, but the microwave has one food safety disadvantage: It sometimes leaves cold spots in food. Bacteria can survive in these spots, so follow these guidelines to keep your food safe.
- Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap so steam can aid thorough cooking. Vent wrap and make sure it doesn’t touch the food.
- Stir and rotate your food for even cooking. No turntable? Rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
- Observe the standing time called for in a recipe or package directions. During the standing time, food finishes cooking.
- Use the oven temperature probe or a meat thermometer to check that food is done. Insert it at several spots.
When you serve food, never leave it out over 2 hours.
- Use clean dishes and utensils to serve food, not those used in preparation. Serve grilled food on a clean plate too, not one that held raw meat, poultry, or fish.
- Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator over 2 hours! Bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow quickly at warm temperatures.
- Pack lunches in insulated carriers with a cold pack. Caution children never to leave lunches in direct sun or on a warm radiator.
- Carry picnic food in a cooler with a cold pack. When possible, put the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid on as much as you can.
- Party time? Keep cold party food on ice or serve it throughout the gathering from platters from the refrigerator. Likewise, divide hot party food into smaller serving platters. Keep platters refrigerated until time to warm them up for serving.
When you handle leftovers, use small containers for quick cooling.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Don’t pack the refrigerator – cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
- With poultry or other stuffed meats, remove stuffing and refrigerate it in separate containers.
For more info see USDA: Leftovers and Food Safety.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.
- Microwave leftovers using a lid or vented plastic wrap for thorough heating.
When in Doubt, Throw It Out.
Sometimes foods get forgotten in the refrigerator and may be kept too long.
- Never taste food that looks or smells strange to see if you can still use. Just discard it.
- Is it moldy? The mold you see is only the tip of the iceberg. The poisons molds can form are found under the surface of the food. So, while you can sometimes save hard cheese and salami and firm fruits and vegetables by cutting the mold out – remove a large area around it – most moldy food should be discarded.
Use the resources below to learn more about foodborne illness.
|University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service||Foodborne Illness: Debunking the Myths|
|Colorado State University||Bacterial Foodborne Illnesses|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||Foodborne Illness Index|
|National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse||Introduction to Foodborne Illnesses|
|U.S. Department of Health & Human Services||Food Safety in a Disaster or Emergency|
|USDA and FDA Recalls and Alerts||Recalls and Outbreaks|
|United States Department of Agriculture||Food Safety Videos|