Food poisoning is a serious health risk. Even though US food supplies continue to be one of the world’s best regulated and safest, every year 76 million Americans suffer illnesses from the food they eat. The federal Centers for Disease Control, which monitors episodes of food borne illness, also reports that 300,000 people a year require hospitalization for food borne illness, and each year, 5,000 Americans die from food borne illness. Preventing death and illness is a significant challenge for federal and state public health departments.
Food safety is also an area where your individual actions can significantly reduce the risk to your family. Safe food handling and storage procedures can lower your chances of viral and bacterial contamination. The following safety tips carry the endorsement of the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and public health groups.
It starts at the store. Buy your food only from stores and vendors that you are sure practice good sanitation. If you have questions about a vendor’s or store’s sanitation practices, don’t hesitate to ask. Food handlers and sellers who are responsible care as much as you do about food safety, and will be glad to discuss their practices.
Looks count. If food looks discolored or old, or if its packaging is cracked, or a can is bulging cans don’t buy it. Any of these signs can indicate bacterial contamination.
Keep it cold. Refrigerate dairy products, fish, meat and poultry and fruits and vegetables as soon as you can. Refrigeration greatly slows the growth of dangerous viruses and bacteria which cause illness.
Keep them separate. Be sure to store raw and cooked food separately. Store both in covered containers.
Keep it short. Cooked food or meat shouldn’t stay in the refrigerator for more than three days.
Not too full. Don’t let your refrigerator get too full. Chilled air needs to be able to circulate around everything in the refrigerator, so that it can cool it efficiently.
Clean hands. It’s the most basic rule of food handling: Always wash your hands before you handle food. Be sure that everyone else working in your kitchen washes, too. Most food borne illnesses in homes are transmitted by unwashed hands.
Wash when you switch. When you are handling several different kinds of uncooked food in your own kitchen, such as shellfish, poultry, uncooked meat, or vegetables, wash your hands in hot soapy water before you move from one food to another.
Keep your tools safe. Wash trays, cooking utensils, cutting surfaces, pots, pans, and anything else that touches food as carefully as your wash your hands.
When in doubt, throw it out. Any food that smells bad, or “off” is suspect. Don’t eat it.
If you’re uneasy about a food you’ve bought, don’t eat it. Throw it out. Go back to where you bought it, and tell them about the problem, so that they can check into it. You can also report your concern to your local city department responsible for food safety. Your report may enable others in the community to be protected from the same problem. Following these simple procedures will give you greater peace of mind, and keep you and those you love much safer.