About 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food each year. Symptoms of food poisoning can range from mild to severe, and sometimes even lead to death. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent food poisoning.
There are many different types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, but some of the most common include:
- E. coli
These bacteria can contaminate food at any stage of the food production process, from the farm to your kitchen table. Contamination can also occur during preparation, cooking, or storage.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from food poisoning:
- 1. Choose Food Produced by Reliable Brands
- 2. Check the “Sell By” Date and Expiration Date
- 3. Don’t Eat Plants That You Cannot Confirm Its Safety When Outside
- 4. Wash Your Hands
- 5. Clean Your Kitchen
- 6. Cook Food Thoroughly
- 7. Avoid Cross-Contamination
- 8. Refrigerate Promptly
- 9. Practice Safe Food Handling
- 10. Use a Cooler in the Car
- 11. Use the 2 Hour Rule
1. Choose Food Produced by Reliable Brands
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of food poisoning is to choose foods that are produced by reliable brands. Do some research on the brands you buy from and make sure they have a good reputation for food safety.
2. Check the “Sell By” Date and Expiration Date
The “sell by” date on a food product is not necessarily the same as the expiration date. The “sell by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You can often safely use a food product after the “sell by” date has passed if it’s been properly stored.
The expiration date, on the other hand, is set by the manufacturer and indicates how long the product will remain fresh and of good quality. Once a food product has reached its expiration date, you should discard it.
3. Don’t Eat Plants That You Cannot Confirm Its Safety When Outside
The rule of the thumb is: if you can’t confirm that a plant is safe to eat, don’t eat it. Many poisonous plants look similar to harmless ones, so it’s better to be on the safe side and just avoid all plants unless you’re sure they’re safe.
For example, we usually see beautiful mushrooms when hiking in the woods. But some of these mushrooms are poisonous and can cause serious illness or death if ingested. So unless you’re an expert in mushroom identification, it’s best to just avoid them altogether.
The same goes for plants that you find in the wild. Unless you’re 100% sure that a plant is safe to eat, don’t risk it.
4. Wash Your Hands
One of the most important things you can do to prevent food poisoning is to wash your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the bathroom, handling raw meat or poultry, or coming into contact with anything that could be contaminated.
5. Clean Your Kitchen
Keep your kitchen clean and sanitized to help prevent food poisoning. Clean countertops, cutting boards, and knives with hot soapy water after each use. Regularly clean your fridge, stove, and other food preparation surfaces. And be sure to wash dishcloths and towels often.
6. Cook Food Thoroughly
One of the greatest ways to eliminate bacteria that can cause food poisoning is to fully cook food. To ensure that meat, poultry, and shellfish are cooked to a safe internal temperature, use a food thermometer.
- Ground beef: 160°F
- Pork: 160°F
- Poultry (breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks): 165°F
- Seafood (fish, shrimp, scallops, and lobster): 145°F
7. Avoid Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination is when bacteria are transferred from one food to another. To avoid cross-contamination in your kitchen:
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other food ( cooked foods) in your grocery cart and in your fridge.
- If you use a cutting board to prepare raw meat, poultry, or seafood, don’t use it for anything else until you wash it with hot soapy water.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
8. Refrigerate Promptly
Bacteria can multiply quickly at warm temperatures, so it’s important to refrigerate food promptly. Put leftovers in the fridge within two hours of cooking, and be sure to keep your fridge set at 40°F or below.
If not refrigerated, many foods can develop germs in just two hours. The time may be only for 1 hour if in summer.
9. Practice Safe Food Handling
When you’re handling food, always follow these safe food handling practices:
- Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
- Avoid “tasting” food to check for doneness. If you need to sample the food, cook a small separate portion.
- Don’t let raw meat, poultry, or seafood come into contact with other food.
- If you’re not going to eat something right away, wrap it up and refrigerate it.
- Don’t eat food that stores more than 24 hours after you first open it. You may forget to eat it again after you first open the packaging. Many packaged food may turn bad after 24 hours.
10. Use a Cooler in the Car
If you’re traveling with food, be sure to keep it at the proper temperature. Use a cooler packed with ice or frozen gel packs to keep food cold on the way home from the grocery store, farmer’s market, or picnic. And if you’re headed out for a long car trip, pack perishable food in a cooler for the journey.
11. Use the 2 Hour Rule
Food shouldn’t be exposed to the sun for more than two hours. This time limit is reduced to one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or above. If you’re picnicking in hot weather, keep food in a cooler or insulated bag until you’re ready to eat.