If you’ve ever been an unlucky victim of food poisoning, you know just how
awful it can be. With symptoms like abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting,
this illness is highly unpleasant. Most food-borne illnesses are caused by
bacteria found in things like meat, fish, eggs, and seafood, and can produce severe symptoms. The good news? There are simple
precautions you can take to avoid food-borne illnesses while preparing food
at home. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe:
1. Separate your groceries
Cross-contamination accounts for a large portion of food-borne illnesses.
Essentially, when raw food and ready-to-eat food
come into contact with each other, you put your meals at risk. Avoiding cross-contamination begins at the
grocery store — make sure to keep raw food (meat, poultry, eggs, seafood)
and ready-to-eat food like fresh produce in separate plastic bags to avoid
any transfer of bacteria.
2. Store foods properly
Believe it or not, how you store meat plays a role in food poisoning. Raw
meat and poultry should always be
kept in tightly sealed containers placed on the bottom shelf
of the refrigerator. This helps to avoid the risk of these raw items
dripping onto other food. In addition, make sure that your cooked and raw
meat do not touch each other.
3. Know how to defrost
It’s important to know that while freezers can keep food safe until it’s
ready to be cooked,
harmful bacteria will not be completely destroyed. It’s recommended that when it comes time to defrost frozen food, use a
microwave, fridge, or cold water to gradually increase temperature and
facilitate the defrosting process.
4. Use caution when prepping
Another potential culprit of contamination is your cutting board. Like your
shopping cart, keep raw food away from cooked food to avoid the transfer of
bacteria. The best way to do this is to
use a different cutting board for anything raw and cooked. You should also use separate plates and utensils, and thoroughly wash
anything that was in contact with raw food before using again.
5. Cook food meticulously
Always make sure that your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature
before enjoying it.
As a general rule,
cook whole meats to 145 °F, ground meats to 160 °F, and poultry to 165 °F.
Oftentimes, it’s hard to tell whether meat is fully cooked based on
appearance alone, so be sure to use a food thermometer to get a reliable
6. Understand the “Danger Zone”
When it comes to meat, egg dishes, and seafood, the “Danger Zone” refers to the spectrum of 40 to 140°F where harmful bacteria multiples
the quickest. Therefore, food should not be left out too long in this
temperature range. Keep leftovers cold at or below 40 °F and keep hot food
at 140 °F or above. Hot food that will be consumed later can be kept out of
the Danger Zone
with the help of warming trays, slow cookers, and more.
7. Make smart choices
Your own logic goes a long way. Don’t eat anything perishable that’s been
left out for over two hours, avoid anything that smells or has a bad taste,
always rinse produce, stay away from things like raw cookie dough or batter
that contains uncooked eggs, adhere to expiration dates, and
wash your hands thoroughly before and after cooking. Being aware of potential danger is a major component of food safety.
Food-borne illnesses can be miserable, but they don’t have to be
commonplace. By taking proper precautions and making smart decisions, you
can keep yourself and your family safe when you’re handling, storing, or
preparing food in the comfort of your own home.