Five Ways to Avoid Food Poisoning

Date Created: 10/25/2016
By Christopher Hamann, M.D., ABEM, ACEP

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Whether you’re planning a big dinner party, or prepping for the holiday season,food safety always should be top of mind when cooking or organizing your kitchen.

The CDC reports that 1 in 6 Americans get ill by consuming contaminated food or drinks each year. There are over 250 known types of foodborne disease, all of which are caused by cross-contamination, or contamination of food by bacteria, toxins, viruses, or parasites. This cross-contamination is often the result of incorrect food handling, preparation, or storage.

Whether you’ve gotten ill by bacteria or by a toxin, there are various different symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps.  It usually will improve after 48 hours, but the most important thing is to keep yourself hydrated and rest. If you feel the illness is severe, it is best to visit your primary care or an urgent care facility immediately.

There are many things you can do to help prevent food poisoning by cleaning and preparing your food properly. Here are five things to keep in mind so you and your family stay safe.

1.How to defrost meat and fish: The safest way to thaw, is a process called slacking. This happens when you allow meat or fish proper time and space to thaw under refrigeration, gradually increasing the temperature in preparation for cooking. You can also thaw meats and fish under running cold water or letting it sit in a cool bath of water.

2.Clean your hands and the surfaces you work on: Germs can live anywhere so it’s important to make sure your cutting boards, utensils, hands and any other items you’re using are properly sanitized. To be extra careful, you can also use disposable gloves when handling raw foods.

3.Avoid cross contamination: Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw foods like meat, poultry and seafood can still spread bacteria to ready-to-eat foods. Make sure you keep raw foods separate from these, both while prepping and storing.  One way of doing this is to use different cutting boards for poultry, meat, seafood and vegetables. There are even cutting boards you can purchase where each cutting board is a different color, which can be designated to a different type of food. This will help prevent cross contamination— which prevents you from getting sick.

4.Cook your foods at the right temperature: While many people think they can tell if a food is done by looking or touching it, it’s always safest to use a food thermometer to make sure that the food is safe to eat. For poultry, the internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  For steaks, roasts or hams, internal temperatures should be 145 degrees Fahrenheit, but you should also let the meat rest for 3-5 minutes before carving. Finally, ground meats (including ground chicken, turkey, and beef) should reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

5.Keep it cool: Your fridge’s temperature should be no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep foods properly chilled. When you’re finished with your meal, it’s important to refrigerate as soon as possible, as germs can grow on foods within two hours, unless they’re placed in the fridge.

Christopher Hamann, M.D., ABEM, ACEP

Dr. Hamann is board certified with the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin and completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida HSC, Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Hamann has held positions as Staff Physician at Cleveland Clinic Hospital-Naples and as Assistant Director of Emergency Medicine at Physicians Regional Medical System in Naples, Florida. Dr. Hamann has many interests including architecture, landscape design, surfing, paddle boarding, mountain biking, cooking, and baking. He and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters.

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