September is National Food Safety Month. We are fortunate in the United States to have one of the safest food supplies in the world. However, there are still concerns when certain disease-causing bacteria or pathogens contaminate food and can cause foodborne illness. The federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year. Each year, these diseases result in an estimated 125,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths.
Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria usually causes illness within one to three days of eating contaminated food. However, illness can occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, or body aches.
Although healthy people will recover from foodborne illness within a short period of time, some can develop chronic, severe, or life-threatening health problems. In addition, some people are more susceptible to foodborne illness. This includes young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
To keep your family safe from food poisoning, follow these simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and refrigerate.
• Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling foods and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
• Consider using paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often on the hot cycle.
• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including peels and skins that have not been eaten. Scrub solid products with a clean product brush.
• For canned goods, clean lids before opening.
• Separate raw meat from other foods.
• Separate raw meat from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator.
• Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate board for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
• Never place cooked food on a plate that previously contained raw meat.
• Do not reuse used pickles on raw foods unless you boil them first.
• Cook food to the appropriate temperature. Color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure that meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products are safe for all cooking methods. These foods should be cooked to the lowest internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria.
• Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated through.
• When cooking in the microwave, cover the food and stir and rotate it until it cooks evenly. If there is no turntable, rotate the plate. Always allow time for food to complete the cooking process.
• Boil sauces, soups and broths when reheating.
• Cool food immediately.
• Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that the refrigerator temperature is consistently 40 degrees or below and that the freezer temperature is 0 degrees or below.
• Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and other perishable items within two hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees.
• Never defrost food at room temperature. The safest way to thaw food is to place it 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 to cool them faster in the refrigerator.
If you think you or a loved one has a foodborne illness, contact your health care provider immediately. Also report suspected foodborne illnesses to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by either of these methods. Consumer Complaints Division: 855-630-2112 or call MedWatch, FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program 1-800-FDA-1088 or file a voluntary report at http://www.fda.gov /medwatch.