Food-borne illnesses and recalls are constantly in the news. Each year, 48 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated food. While you cannot completely prevent food-borne illnesses from happening, you can reduce your risks by practicing good food safety at home.
Improperly stored, prepared and defrosted food can promote the spread of harmful bacteria, which increases your risk of getting a food-borne illness and its accompanying symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms. These symptoms can last from a few hours to a few days. Certain people including young children, older adults, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you use four concepts to safely prepare foods: clean, separate, cook and chill.
When preparing food, keep your hands and kitchen surfaces that come into contact with raw ingredients clean. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after handling food. Wash food preparation surfaces with hot, soapy water after making each food item. Be sure you thoroughly clean fruits and vegetables with water and a produce brush. You should not wash raw meat or poultry before cooking as it increases the likelihood of harmful bacteria spreading to your countertops and sink.
Create separate storage and preparation areas for raw foods that will be cooked (like meats) and foods that will be eaten raw (like vegetables). Use different cutting boards and utensils as you prepare each food. Do not put foods that are ready to be eaten on the same plate that held raw foods or their juices.
Remember food is not properly cooked until it reaches a safe internal temperature. This is the temperature that kills harmful bacteria. The only way to know raw meats and poultry are properly cooked is by using a meat thermometer. Pork products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, ground beef 160 degrees F, and chicken and poultry 165 degrees F. Properly cooked eggs will have firm yolks and whites. Do not eat any uncooked batter or dough as it could contain raw eggs.
If you have leftovers after a meal, you still have food safety precautions to take. Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of preparation. Use an appliance thermometer periodically to make sure your refrigerator and freezer are cold enough to properly store food. For a refrigerator, that temperature is 40 degrees F. It is zero degrees F for the freezer. Eat leftovers within three to four days. When thawing foods, do not set them out at room temperature as this allows for the rapid growth and spread of bacteria. Thaw foods in the refrigerator, under cold, running water, or in the microwave followed by immediate cooking. When reheating, make sure food is cooked to 165 degrees F, and sauces, soups and gravies reach a rolling boil. Do not eat leftovers that look or smell questionable.
More information on food safety is available at the Letcher County Extension Office.