Blog Post: Four Steps to Preventing Foodborne Illness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 48 million (one in six) Americans acquire a foodborne illness every year. If you’ve ever been one of them, you know it’s sheer misery…nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, and dehydration that can last up to 48 hours. Most people recover fine at home, but nearly 130,000 end up in the hospital for fluids and meds. And sadly, about 3,000 die each year.
The CDC recommends following four simple steps to dramatically reduce your risk of foodborne illness at home:
Keep cooking and food prep surfaces and your hands clean.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20-30 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, handling pets, or touching anything that may be significantly contaminated with germs (such as door handles).
Using disposable latex gloves while cooking can add an extra layer of protection. They’re especially important if you have a cut or some other skin abrasion or infection.
Countertops and other surfaces should be cleaned with hot, soapy water or disinfectant wipes, and dried with disposable paper towels. The best place to wash and disinfect non-porous cutting boards (plastic, acrylic, etc.), dishes, and utensils is the dishwasher. Boards made of more porous material can be sanitized in bleach and water (1-2 Tbsp. bleach for every gallon of water).
Avoid cross-contaminating foods. Don’t reuse plates, cutting boards, or utensils that come in contact with raw meat or juices. Serve cooked food on a clean plate.
Make sure foods are cooked to the proper temperature. You can find safe temperatures for all foods online, but as a general rule:
- Poultry: 165 degrees F
- Ground beef, pork, veal, or lamb: 160 degrees F
- Fresh beef/lamb (steaks), pork, ham, and fish: 145 degrees F
After food is cooked, it should be kept hot (at least 140 degrees F) to prevent growth of bacteria.
If your food is to be served raw or cold, it should be kept below 40 degrees F.
Foodborne illness does not just happen when you eat foods that are undercooked or contaminated. It can also happen when you consume things that weren’t stored quickly or properly.
Remember to refrigerate leftover cooked food promptly—within two hours.
Protect Yourself When Eating Out
According to the CDC, foodborne illness outbreaks are more likely to begin at restaurants than at home.
To say you should avoid eating out would be unrealistic…and just plain mean. Occasional meals out are a wonderful way to celebrate events, reconnect with loved ones, and have some fun. At the same time, it’s important to be vigilant and aware.
First, make sure your meat is thoroughly cooked. I love a medium-rare steak as much as the next person, but under-cooking can be dangerous. This is especially true of ground meats, like burgers and meatballs. If you see any pink or raw areas, send it back and request that it be re-plated on a clean dish. Sides should also be switched out.
Second, if there is an outbreak of disease that is sourced back to, say, lettuce grown in California, either avoid ordering salads or ask the server where the ingredients came from.
Next, check the overall condition of the restaurant. Of course this isn’t a surefire way to spot a dirty kitchen that could make you sick, but you may get a gut instinct to turn around and leave. And if you do, you should.
Finally, you can look online for health inspection reports of restaurants in your area. Avoid establishments that have been cited multiple times—either indefinitely, or at least until they clean things up and get back up to code.