The CDC estimates that each year, around 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses. Even though we may think we are doing things right by reading nutrition labels, buying fresh produce and meats, and keeping an organized refrigerator and pantry, we still need to be thinking a little more about ensuring food safety. On that note and in honor of Food Safety Month, here are a few ways to ensure you are eating safely and ways to help prevent your chances of becoming a bad food safety statistic.
1. Always Wash Fresh Foods Anything fresh should be washed and scrubbed. Even fruits and vegetables with protective skins should be washed to avoid bacteria from entering the produce when cutting. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent, but rather fresh running water. Use a brush to scrub firm produce. (To help remind everyone in your family the importance of washing fresh produce, the FDA has a poster you can display.)
2. Decode Expiration Dates There is a language of its own for food expiration dates. To make sure foods are fresh and not spoiled, you need to know what different expiration dates mean to avoid consuming bad food (or wasting food). With the use-by, sell-by, best-buy, and expires-on phrases, it can get confusing to know if food is really safe or if throwing it out will be a waste. There are different guides explaining what these dates mean and when to throw items away, but if you get confused or forget, just know that the most important factor is temperature. Paying attention to the storage temperature can help determine and decode what expiration dates may mean for your food.
3. Store Leftovers Immediately When you have leftovers, store them quickly and safely to avoid the food attracting bacteria and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that, “not cooking food to a safe temperature and leaving food out at an unsafe temperature are the two main causes of foodborne illness.” So, enjoy your leftover treats, but keep your food safe by handing leftovers correctly.
4. Keep Loose Food in Sealed Containers Foods such as cereal, crackers, and pasta should all be placed in sealable containers. Folding the packaging and just closing the box can be easy, but keeping these items in airtight containers will keep bugs or other wandering insects or animals from getting into the box. And as a bonus, it will keep these foods fresher for longer.
5. Ensure Meats are Cooked Thoroughly Illnesses such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria stem from eating undercooked meats. To avoid these illnesses and their painful symptoms, ensure meats are cooked to proper temperatures. Review the list of minimum cooking temperatures from FoodSafety.gov for ensuring safe cooking and consumption. And when cooking, make sure you have a smoke detector properly working in the kitchen.
6. Clean Off Cans You may be thinking that cans protect the food you will be eating, however, things like rodent residue can be found on soda cans, vegetable cans, or any other canned food items from warehouse storage. And while the can does protect your food, how you open it may cause that bacteria to enter into the can. Be sure to wipe cans down before opening and be careful anything on the outside of the can doesn’t get inside.
7. Wash Hands and Utensils This is a no-brainera nd, if you own a restaurant, a good system for your business, but many people forget to follow this important rule during food preparation. The FDA recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds before and after food preparation. Utensils should also be cleaned before, in-between, and after use.
8. Use Separate Cutting Boards for Meat and Produce While you may not have the luxury of tons of space in your kitchen, you do need to have multiple cutting boards. Keeping one cutting board for meats (preferably plastic and not wood) and one board for produce can prevent contamination and bacteria from breeding.
9. Check for Food Allergies While we hope you won’t purposely make foods that your family members may be allergic to, it is important to pay attention to those allergies of guests who may be stopping by for a bite to eat. Along with making sure you follow general food safety, you want to make sure your food is safe and edible for everyone who sits at your table and that you are sensitive to any allergies. Share these food safety tips with others and for more information, check out government agencies such as the Federal Drug Association and the Unites States Department of Agriculture.