There are approximately two million cases of food poisoning in the U.S. each year. The vast majority of these cases occur in food prepared at home. It is estimated that 55 percent of food poisoning cases are caused by improper cooking and storage of foods, 24 percent by poor hygiene (such as not washing your hands before handling the food), and only 3 percent of cases from an unsafe food source.
Because so many cases of food poisoning are caused by the preparation and storage of food, if you take the proper steps for preventing food poisoning, you can reduce your family's risk of food poisoning by 97 percent!
Read on for some valuable step-by-step food poisoning prevention tips.
Buying and Storing Food
Buying the food
- Carefully examine canned food for signs of bacterial contamination, which include a milky liquid surrounding vegetables; cracked jars; dented or rusted cans; and loose lids.
- Do not buy unpasteurized eggs, unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
- Buy all meats, seafood, and dairy products from reputable suppliers.
Storing the food
- When returning from the grocery store, put chilled foods in the refrigerator or freezer as quickly as possible.
- Freeze fresh meat, fish, or poultry if they are not going to be used in the next couple days.
- Do not leave prepared foods (such as cheese or cooked meat) at room temperature for more than two hours before serving.
- If you're preparing food a day in advance, put it in the refrigerator or freezer immediately after cooking and do not take it out more than two hours before serving.
- When refrigerating raw meat, fish, or poultry, place the items in a plastic bag and store them on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator to keep them from leaking juices onto other foods.
- Keep your refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees and your freezer at zero degrees.
- Don't store food for longer than the recommended time period. Steaks and roasts should be used within 3 to 4 days, ground meats and fresh poultry within 1 to 2 days, deli meats within 4 days, and leftovers within 3 to 5 days. Milk products usually last about a week and eggs can last for 3 to 4 weeks.
Preparing Food and Cleaning Up
Preparing the food
- Do not prepare food when you are sick.
- Always wash your hands before, during, and after food preparation, and after going to the bathroom or changing your child's diaper.
- Defrost meat, poultry, or fish in the refrigerator or the microwave -- never on a countertop.
- After preparing raw meat, fish, or poultry, wash your hands and all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap before continuing your preparation.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with soap and water before eating.
- Taste food only when it is thoroughly cooked.
- Cook all poultry to at least 180 degrees, red meats to 165 degrees, pork to 160 degrees, and fish to 140 degrees. Use a cooking thermometer to get the exact temperature.
- When reheating foods, cover them and reheat them thoroughly.
- Use hot, soapy water to wash cutting boards, utensils, and any other equipment that was used to prepare food.
- Clean sponges and dishcloths by washing them in water, squeezing out the excess water, and microwaving them at full power for 60 seconds.
- Use soap, water, and a disposable paper towel instead of a sponge or dishcloth to clean up surfaces that have touched raw meat, fish, or poultry.
Sources: University of California at Davis Health System; Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam)
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.