While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year! In addition, each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Symptoms ranging from relatively mild discomfort to very serious, life-threatening illness. While the very young, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of serious consequences from most foodborne illnesses, some of the organisms pose grave threats to all persons.
In every step of food preparation, follow the core four practices to keep food safe:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
- Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
- Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.
- Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene — wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, counter-tops and utensils with hot soapy water.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator. In your refrigerator these items should not be stored above ready to eat food. They should be placed in separate containers to avoid their juices from dripping onto other food.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
- Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause food borne illness.
- Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Relying on color to cook meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs is an extremely ineffective food safety practice. Use the chart below:
- Make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive) when cooking in a microwave oven. For best results, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
- Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165 °F.
- Do you know that pathogens multiply quickest in the “danger zone” between 41°F and 135°F? Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.
- Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store.
- Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food, or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
- Never defrost food at room temperature! There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
- Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.
- Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis.
An important part of healthy eating is keeping foods safe. These core four practices of food safety principles work together to reduce the risk of foodborne illness—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.