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Safe Food Handling

Alternate Names

  • food safety
  • food sanitation and hygiene

Definition

Safe food handling practices limit the risk of foodborne illnesses or food poisoning. Culprits of foodborne illness include produce, cooked and raw meat, eggs, and canned foods.

What food source is the nutrient found in?

If not handled properly, many foods can become contaminated with germs and organisms that make people sick when the food is eaten. Experts estimate that between 6.5 and 33 million cases of food borne illness occur in the United States each year. Many reports go unreported because symptoms can often be mistaken for other health problems, such as the "flu".

How does the nutrient affect the body?

Symptoms of foodborne illness include:
  • fatigue
  • chills
  • mild fever
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • upset stomach
People can have diarrhea with dehydration, severe cramps, vision problems and possibly even death in severe cases. Symptoms vary depending on the person and the type of foodborne illness. Types of foodborne illnesses include salmonella, clostridium perfringens, clostridium botulism and E. coli.

Information

Eating foods that have been contaminated by certain germs or "pathogens" can make a person ill. This is called food poisoning or foodborne illness.
Often, when people have a stomach ache or feel as though they have the "flu" they may have eaten a foodborne pathogen. These types of germs are around us all the time.
Infants, children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and the elderly may be more at risk because they are less able to fight the effects of the germs.
There are ways to prevent contacting foodborne illnesses at home.
Here are some important tips:
  • Keep hot foods hot. High temperatures (between 165 to 212 degrees F) reached when boiling, baking, frying, and roasting will kill most bacteria.
  • When cooking meats, use a meat thermometer. Bring meat and fish to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, and 180 degrees F for poultry.
  • Hold cooked foods at 140 degrees F.
  • Don't let cooked foods sit at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • Thoroughly reheat leftovers.
  • Keep cold foods cold. Organisms that cause foodborne illness thrive between 40 and 140 degrees F.
  • Keep the refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees F and the freezer below 0 degrees F.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator rather than on the counter. The counter top is too warm and bacteria can grow there.
  • Refrigerate groceries and leftovers right away.
  • Keep work surfaces and utensils clean. A major cause of food contamination comes from touching something that is contaminated, such as raw meat, dirty hands or a contaminated knife, and then touching food. To prevent cross-contamination, hands should be washed after handling raw meat.
  • Separate cutting boards and utensils that are used for raw and cooked foods. Cutting boards, utensils and counters should be washed, sanitized and dried thoroughly after each use.
  • Do not use a wood cutting board for raw meat. They can trap bacteria in the grooves made by a knife. Plastic or glass is safer for meats.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. When a food looks or smells funny, common sense says to throw it away. But often foods will show no sign of contamination by organisms that cause illness. Raw meats should only be stored for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator; pork sausage and ground beef for only 2 days. Meats can be safely stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Keep the food environment clean.
  • Wash hands often, especially after handling raw meat.
  • Keep dish towels washed and dry. They can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Wash fresh produce before eating it.
  • Keep counter surfaces clean with warm soapy water or a bleach solution to sanitize.
  • Shop smartly. Pay attention to "sell by" dates. Do not purchase out-of-date items.
  • Do not buy canned goods that are bulging or dented and packaged goods with broken seals.

Sources

Duyff, R., MS, RD, CFCS. (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food&Nutrition Guide. Minnesota: Chronimed Publishing.

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