F ood poisoning is a common problem. Also known as foodborne illness, this fast-moving illness is caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites — but it’s also one that can often be prevented. Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain and cramps, and watery diarrhea.
This can happen if food:
- isn’t cooked or reheated thoroughly
- isn’t stored correctly – for example, it’s not been frozen or chilled
- is left out for too long
- is handled by someone who’s ill or hasn’t washed their hands
- is eaten after its “use by” date
Many cases are mild and you get better without treatment. But some cases may be so severe that you need to go to a hospital for treatment. To avoid getting a food-borne illness in the first place, there are some general guidelines to follow. Regardless of the severity, it is no fun having it and here is how to avoid it.
Here are some tips to help you reduce your risk of food poisoning at home.
1. Cleanliness. Wash hands, utensils and food surfaces with hot soapy water before food handling or preparation.
2. Wash dishcloths and tea towels regularly, and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for germs to spread.
3. Use a separate chopping board to prepare raw food, such as meat and fish. This is to avoid contaminating ready-to-eat foods with harmful bacteria that can be present in raw food before it has been cooked.
4. Prevent cross-contamination. This commonly happens when juices from raw meat, poultry, fish or shellfish stored above fresh fruits or vegetables or ready-to-eat food drips down and contaminates it. Raw foods should always be on the bottom.
5. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Don’t rely on how a cooked food looks; use a food thermometer. These foods should have an internal Fahrenheit temperature of; poultry – 165; ground beef – 160; pork and seafood – 145.
6. Promptly refrigerate or freeze leftover food. Food should never be left out over two hours after purchasing or cooking. And if the room temperature is above 90 F, that time should be cut to no more than one hour.
7. Defrost food properly. Never defrost food by leaving it out at room temperature. The safest way is to allow food to defrost slowly in your refrigerator. If you need to defrost something quickly, use the “Defrost” or “50%” setting on your microwave and then cook immediately.
8. Store food at the proper temperature. Food kept in the refrigerator should be at 40 degrees F; frozen food at 0 degree F.
9. When in doubt, throw it out. If you are unsure if food is safe or not, throw it out. None of us like to waste food, but it is better than getting sick.
Food poisoning can be serious and even life-threatening for certain groups of people. The young and old, along with pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system, should avoid these foods:
- The raw variety of meats, fish and shellfish, and eggs
- Unpasteurized juices, milk, and milk products
- Pates and meat spreads
- Soft Cheeses
- Uncooked hot dogs and deli/luncheon meats
Finally, don’t let your guard down when traveling. Keep foods cold by using coolers, insulated bags, ice packs, and portable refrigerators. If not possible to wash your hands before eating, at least use a hand sanitizer containing at least 62% alcohol.
Use all of the tips in this article to minimize the risks of getting Salmonella or other foodborne illnesses. When it comes to food, you can never be too careful.
Other General Tips
Wash your hands with soap after handling reptiles, turtles, birds, or after contact with human or pet feces.
If you are ill with diarrhea or vomiting, do not prepare food for others, especially infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, because they are more likely to get sick from an infection.