How To Protect Yourself from Food Poisoning

By on January 17, 2019

 

The incidence of food poisoning is climbing – due in part to the government shutdown which has reduced federal inspectors who spend  their days taking care of us.  With many of them furloughed,  it falls on the individual consumer to do what she can to protect herself and her family.

This is not new.  When I was studying home ec, back in the Pleistocene age, we were taught that cleanliness is next to godliness and that the responsibility falls to the cook to protect the family.

Raw chicken has always been considered a carrier of germs including e-coli and other nasty pests that can sicken and kill those who swallow them. Recently, we’ve read about romaine lettuce which, when grown in fields where the water is contaminated by feces, can sicken and kill animals and humans.

And sometimes,  the pesticides themselves,  chemical substances sprayed on crops in the field to kill harmful insects, small animals, wild plants and other unwanted organisms can also damage people’s health.

But what can you and I do to protect ourselves from e-coli and other dangerous food borne pests?

The FDA offers a book it calls The Bad Bug Book which details what pathogens are on food and what they can do to those who accidently ingest them.  In a nutshell,  here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.

Washing your hands before and after handling food, and in between handling different foods, is one of the most important steps you can take. Do the same with equipment, utensils, and countertops.

Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water. These nutritious foods usually are safe, as you probably know from the many times you’ve eaten them, but wash them just in case they’ve somehow become contaminated. For the most part, the less of a pathogen on a food – if any – the less chance that it can make you sick.

Cooking food to proper temperatures kills most bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and the kinds of E. coli that cause illness, and parasites.

Keep any pathogens that could be on raw, unwashed foods from spreading by keeping raw and cooked foods separate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Most  foodborne illnesses, while unpleasant, go away by themselves and don’t have lasting effects. But some pathogens that can be more serious, have long‐lasting effects, or cause death.

To put these pathogens in perspective, think about how many different foods and how many times you eat each day, all year, without getting sick from the food.

Washing your hands before and after handling food, and in between handling different foods, is one of the most important steps you can take. Do the same with equipment, utensils, and countertops.

Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water. These nutritious foods usually are safe, as you probably know from the many times you’ve eaten them, but wash them just in case they’ve somehow become contaminated. For the most part, the less of a pathogen on a food – if any – the less chance that it can make you sick.

Cooking food to proper temperatures kills most bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and the kinds of E. coli that cause illness, and parasites.

Keep any pathogens that could be on raw, unwashed foods from spreading by keeping raw and cooked foods separate. Keep them in different containers, and don’t use the same equipment on them, unless the equipment is washed properly in between. Treat countertops the same way.

Refrigerate food at 40°F as soon as possible after it’s cooked. Remember, the less of a pathogen there is in a food, the less chance that it can make you sick. Proper refrigeration keeps most types of bacteria from growing to numbers that can cause illness (although if a food already has high numbers of bacteria when it’s put in the refrigerator, it could still cause illness).

Here are a few examples of why following all of these steps is important. Some types of bacteria form spores that aren’t killed by cooking. Spores are a survival mode in which those bacteria make an inactive form that can live without nutrition and that develops very tough protection against the outside world. After cooking, the spores may change and grow into bacteria, when the food cools down. Refrigerating food quickly after cooking can help keep the bacteria from multiplying. On the other hand, cooking does kill most harmful bacteria. Cooking is especially important when a pathogen is hard to wash off of a particular kind of food.

In a nutshell,  keep foods below 40 degrees – ie in the refrigerator,  or above 140 degrees which can only be attained by cooking.

Don’t be fearful, just be safe.

Pin It

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”