A primary prevention goal is to prevent contaminated food from ever reaching the consumer. The FDA regulates everything we eat except for meat, poultry, and some egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then the CDC and Health & Human Services gets involved when an outbreak does occur. So 4 gigantic governmental agencies are on infection outbreak patrol. Check.
However, there are things we all can do to protect ourselves. Food safety does have a component of common sense. In case your sense is not common here is a list of habits we all can do for self-protection of our own food supply:
Prevention of food-borne illness starts with your trip to the supermarket.
- Pick up your packaged and canned foods first
- Don’t buy food in cans that are bulging or dented
- Don’t buy jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids
- Don’t eat raw shellfish
- Use only pasteurized milk and cheese
- Use pasteurized or otherwise treated ciders and juices if you have autoimmune diseases
- Choose eggs that are refrigerated, clean and not cracked
- Pickup your frozen foods and perishables such as meat, poultry or fish last & keep them separated so their drippings don’t contaminate other foods
- Don’t buy open, torn or crushed packaged frozen seafood and look for signs of frost or ice crystals which indicates long storage or thawed and refroze
- Check meat, fish, and salad bar counter cleanliness
- Buy your shellfish from state-approved markets; don’t buy from roadside stands or the back of a truck; and heed posted warnings about the safety of the water when harvesting your own
- Keep frozen and perishable foods in an ice chest if it takes longer than an hour to get them into your home’s refrigeration
- Refrigerator temperature should be 40 and the freezer should be zero degrees F, check them with a thermometer periodically
- Poultry and meat can be refrigerator for only a day or two and make sure their juices don’t contaminate other foods
- Tightly wrap freezer foods
- Store eggs in their carton in the refrigerator itself rather than on the door
- Keep seafood in the refrigerator or freezer until time to prepare
- Don’t crowd the refrigerator or freezer to let air circulate and anything that looks or smells suspicious should be tossed
- A sure sign of spoilage is mold, which can grow even in the refrigerator; not a major health threat and you can save molding hard cheeses, salami, and firm fruits and vegetables if you cut large area around it
- Check cans or jars labels for storage instructions
- Don’t store potatoes or onions under the sink because of pipe leakage can damage the food
- Don’t refrigerate potatoes, store them in a cool, dry place
- Don’t store foods near household cleaning products and chemicals
Keep It Clean
The first cardinal rule of safe food preparation in the home is: Keep everything clean.
The cleanliness rule applies to the areas where food is prepared and, most importantly, to the cook.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap before preparing a meal and after handling raw meat or poultry
- Be sure any open sores or cuts on the hands are completely covered, if it is infected, stay out of the kitchen
- Keep the work area and counter tops clean using bleach water or commercial kitchen cleaning product for getting rid of bacteria
- Keep dishcloth clean and dry, they can harbor bacteria
- Sanitize the kitchen sink drain periodically with bleach water or commercial kitchen cleaning product to prevent bacterial growth in an ideal environment
- Wash cutting boards with hot water and soap and then sanitize with automatic dishwasher solution or by rinsing with them in bleach water
- Always wash and sanitize cutting boards after using them for raw foods
- Always use clean utensils and wash them between cutting different foods
- Wash the lids of canned foods before opening
- Do not put cooked meat on an unwashed plate or platter that has held raw meat
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, rinsing under running water
Keep Temperature Right
The second cardinal rule of safe home food preparation is: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Use a digital or dial food thermometer to ensure that meats are completely cooked.
- Eggs should be cooked until the white and the yolk are firm.
- Seafood should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 F, fish that is ground or flaked should be cooked to at least 155 F (68 C) and stuffed fish to at least 165 F
If you don’t have a food thermometer, look for other these signs seafood is done:
- Fish is done when the thickest part becomes opaque and the fish flakes easily when poked with a fork
- Shrimp simmered three to five minutes until the shells turn red
- Clams and mussels are steamed over boiling water until the shells open (five to 10 minutes) plus five minutes longer
- Oysters should be sautéed, baked or boiled until plump, about five minutes
Protect food from cross-contamination after cooking and eat promptly:
- Cooked foods should not be left standing on the table or kitchen counter for more than two hours
- If a dish is to be served hot, get it from the stove to the table as quickly as possible
- Reheated foods should be brought to a temperature of at least 165 F.
- Keep cold foods in the refrigerator or on a bed of ice until serving
- After the meal, leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible
- Meats should be cut in slices of three inches or less and all foods should be stored in shallow containers to hasten cooling.
- Remove all the stuffing from roast turkey or chicken and store it separately.
- Giblets should also be stored separately.
- Leftovers should be used within three days.
And here are just a few more parting tips to keep your favorite dishes safe.
- Don’t thaw meat and other frozen foods at room temperature. Instead, move them from the freezer to the refrigerator for a day or two; or defrost submerged in cold water. You can also defrost in the microwave oven or during the cooking process. Cook foods immediately after defrosting in the microwave or cold water.
- Never taste any food that looks or smells “off” or comes out of leaking, bulging or severely damaged cans or jars with leaky lids.
Follow these tips to protect and prevent a severe gastrointestinal upset caused by E. Coli!