In a typical day, few people may pay much mind to foodborne illnesses. But once a person gets sick from food poisoning, the experience is something they don’t soon forget.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness. The CDC notes that most instances of food poisoning are infections caused by various bacteria, viruses and parasites. Food safety can prevent many instances of food poisoning, which is one reason why restaurants must adhere to strict protocols designed to keep customers safe. Routine inspections by government officials ensure those guidelines are followed, but what about cooking at home? When cooking at home, the family chef can follow these steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
• Clean your hands and the surfaces in your kitchen. The CDC notes that germs can not only survive in many places around the kitchen, but also spread throughout the kitchen. Prior to preparing a meal, clean all countertops where you will be dicing, slicing, etc.
In addition, before touching any food, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and be sure to do so each time you finish working with one food and before working with another.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables may contain harmful germs that can increase your risk of foodborne illnesses. Salmonella, E. coli and listeria have each been found on fruits and vegetables, and the CDC estimates that a significant percentage of foodborne illnesses can be traced to contaminated produce. Rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water prior to slicing or dicing.
• Separate foods. The Food and Drug Administration advises people to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods. Keep foods separate in shopping carts, grocery bags and then in the refrigerator upon arriving home. When preparing dishes that include meat and fresh fruits and vegetables, use separate cutting boards for each raw food.
• Cook foods to the correct temperature. Foods are only safe to eat when they reach certain internal temperatures. Recipes typically include this information, and cooks should always follow recipes. Food thermometers can be used when cooking in the stove or using a grill. A list of foods and their corresponding temperatures can be found at www.foodsafety.gov.
• Cool foods at the right temperature, too. Cooking foods at the right temperature is vital to food safety, but so is cooling foods at appropriate temperatures. The CDC advises keeping refrigerators at 40F or below. When thawing foods, do so in the refrigerator in cold water or use the defrost setting on your microwave. Foods should never be thawed on the counter, as bacteria can multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.