USE THESE SIMPLE TECHNIQUES TO MINIMIZE THE DANGER OF FOOD POISONING
Salmonella, Hepatitis, E-Coli: it is getting harder and harder to avoid food poisoning!
It seems like every week, sometimes even several times a week we are being notified about dangerous food recalls!
Food poisoning, or food borne illnesses can be caused by bacteria, viruses and/or parasites. These incidents of food poisoning can also be caused by the toxins produced by any of these.
The symptoms of food poisoning can manifest almost immediately in some situations.
What we may not know is that many kinds of toxins require an incubation period of hours, days, weeks or even months before we begin to have symptoms!
Symptoms of food poisoning can be vomiting, nausea, fever, abdominal pain or cramping and watery stool, sometimes with the appearance of blood.
In some cases the effects are mild and tend to self resolve.
Other cases may be life threatening and require immediate medical attention!
There is no form of food poisoning or food borne illness that is pleasant, that’s for certain!
Thankfully, there are many ways to minimize the danger by taking the necessary precautions.
“WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!”
This is the most obvious one.
All of us were told as children (hopefully) that the kitchen and bathroom are the most used and the most important rooms in the house.
The kitchen is a priority and needs to be kept clean and orderly.
A well organized kitchen that is cleaned often and well is our first line of defense against food poisoning.
I always fill the sink with hot, soapy water whenever I am preparing food.
This is a handy way to prepare your work surfaces and maintain a clean prep area.
Replacing the water in the sink as it cools or loses the suds may seem trivial, and is a bit time consuming; but totally worth the trouble to keep yourself and your family safe.
Washing your hands and the work surface before and after preparing each item on the menu will prevent many instances of cross contamination.
Make it a ‘best practice’ to use separate cutting boards for produce, meat and dairy products.
Produce should always have a dedicated cutting board since it is not always cooked, or not cooked to high enough temperatures to kill dangerous toxins.
Likewise, many dairy products such as cheese are not cooked at all.
The cutting boards should be cleaned with soap and water between every use.
2: CROSS CONTAMINATION:
When we fill our refrigerator with groceries, there is a method of storage that can reduce the danger of food poisoning.
Storing meat, fish or poultry on the shelf above fruits and vegetables is a recipe for disaster.
The liquids from animal products can leak and drip down, contaminating other foods stored below.
Making it a standard rule to always store meat on the bottom shelf will go a long way towards prevention.
Using a plate or thick layer of paper towel under fresh meat when thawing or storing can also capture the juices and prevent puddling. This is also helpful for cleaning up and keeping the fridge safe for food storage.
Any fruits or veggies should either be on a higher shelf or in a drawer with the humidity at the appropriate setting for that type of produce.
Maintaining proper venting in the drawers will keep the juicier fruits and veggies from dehydrating too quickly and losing flavor or freshness.
3: PROPER ‘DONE’ TEMPERATURES:
Cooking food to the proper temperature is of utmost importance.
Use a cooking thermometer to ensure certain foods have reached the correct temperature.
Meat often requires a resting period after it is removed from the heat source. This allows the juices to re-hydrate the meat and allows it to finish cooking. Generally, this is 10-15 minutes. It is also useful for finishing up the side dishes and getting the serving area ready!
4: PROPER STORAGE AFTER COOKING:
Holidays are notorious for leaving out foods to snack on or for guests to refill their plates and take their time with an especially delicious spread.
Never leave food out for more than 1-2 hours.
It is not a coincidence that most incidents of food poisoning happen as a result of celebratory feasts!
Be sure to refrigerate or freeze leftover foods promptly.
The warmer the kitchen the sooner that food needs to be put away!
5: DEFROST YOUR FOOD SAFELY:
We have all been there; that last minute scramble to get a meal on the table and we need to defrost something FAST!
The best way to safely defrost frozen food is to allow it to slowly defrost in the fridge. Of course, this is not always possible.
The absolute fastest way to defrost is to use the defrost setting on the microwave and then cook promptly.
The primary danger in microwave thawing is that this technique partially cooks the food.
This produces a temperature where bacteria is able to thrive.
Cold water thawing is the next fastest way to defrost a frozen item.
This is done by immersing a sealed item in cold tap water. It is okay as long as the package is intact and the water is changed often.
Leaving it on the counter to thaw, using warm water or allowing the cold water to get warm is never a good idea!
6: STORE FOOD AT PROPER TEMPERATURES:
We keep a food thermometer in the fridge to be sure the refrigerator temperature is kept at a steady 40 degrees F. The freezer needs to be kept at 0 degrees F.
It is often necessary to adjust the settings during different seasons or extreme temperatures.
If there is a power outage, resist the temptation to open the fridge!
This is the most likely way to lose the safe temperature quickly.
A full fridge or freezer will hold the cold longer than an empty or partially filled one.
Maintaining a good inventory is also important for being efficient with the energy required to operate your fridge.
7: IF YOU HAVE EVEN THE SLIGHTEST DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!
Bad bacteria grows quickly in and on poorly kept food. It may be undetectable in its taste or appearance, so don’t take chances!
8: IMMUNE HEALTH AND UNPASTEURIZED FOOD:
Often, very young and very old people can have undeveloped or compromised immune systems.
Anyone with weak or compromised immune function should avoid the following foods:
1- Raw meats, fish and shellfish
2- Raw or under-cooked eggs
3- Unpasteurized juices and milk products including soft cheeses
4- Pate’s and meat spreads
5- Uncooked deli meats and hot dogs
9: WHEN TRAVELING:
Traveling can present its own challenges when it comes to avoiding food poisoning.
While it is sometimes beneficial to bring along your own safe and delicious foods, this can go very wrong by failure to observe a few simple rules. Be sure to use well iced coolers. Drain out the melted water often and keep the ice topped off.
Use insulated bags and containers to keep meat, dairy and produce separated. Remember to keep the meat on the bottom of the cooler.
Always wash your hands with soap and water before eating.
You can choose to use disposable serving utensils if it is difficult to keep hot, soapy water available for washing up between uses.
So there you have it.
9 EASY WAYS TO AVOID FOOD POISONING!
- Cross Contamination
- Cooking Temperature
- Storage After Cooking
- Grocery Storage
- When In Doubt, Throw It Out!
We can’t avoid every possible source of food poisoning, but by following these tips we can greatly reduce the chances of it happening to us or to our loved ones.
If you have experienced food poisoning, or know someone who has, please feel free to share it with us in the comments!