Do you know what lurks in that unmarked container in your refrigerator? It could be leftovers from last night’s casserole or it could be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The answer may lie in how the food was handled.
It’s estimated that one out of every ten people is affected by some type of food borne illness each year. The Centers for Disease Control says food borne illnesses kill up to 9,000 people a year. However, because many people dismiss the symptoms as a virus or flu, many cases of food borne illness go unnoticed. Common, often overlooked symptoms include stomachaches, vomiting and diarrhea.
“The elderly, infants, the chronically ill and pregnant women are at especially greater risk of harm from food poisoning,” said Heather Beard, RD, LD, a registered dietician on the Centennial Medical Center staff.
To avoid the likes of botulism, staph poisoning, salmonella or E Coli, it’s essential to use safe food preparation measures.
Consider these “Four Steps to Food Safety”:
- Clean ·
- Separate ·
- Cook ·
You should wash your hands frequently before, during and after handling raw foods. Everything that touches food should be clean. Separate foods during preparation to fight cross-contamination, cutting boards and utensils should be cleaned after use and before using with another food. For example, if you prepare meat on a cutting board, wash it before you begin to chop lettuce. Ideally, you should use separate cutting boards for vegetables and fruit, poultry, fish, and red meats, stresses Beard.
Cook food thoroughly. Bacteria grow rapidly on protein-rich food such as raw eggs, meat and seafood. Boiling temperatures kill most germs. Use a food thermometer to determine whether food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful microorganisms. A center temperature of at least 160 degrees, for most meat, is sufficient enough to kill most bacteria.
“Likewise, make sure cold items are cold,” said Beard. “Make sure to chill food at the right temperature. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and the freezer temperature should be set, at most, to zero degrees Fahrenheit.”
Refrigerate or freeze perishables or leftovers within two hours of purchase or preparation. Food should be thawed in the refrigerator, not left out on a counter. For quick thawing, place food in an airtight package and submerge in cold water, or microwave. Keep in mind that in freezing temperatures bacteria don’t grow, but they don’t die either.