Food safety is one of those things that it is easy to start cutting corners on because we are in a hurry or because it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Unfortunately, one in six Americans gets sick from food poisoning each year. Food poisoning can be avoided by just taking the little bit of extra time to make sure food is taken care of and prepared properly.
There are a few “magic” numbers to remember when storing your food; zero, two and 40. Your freezer should be set to zero degrees. Food should not sit out for more than two hours (if it’s a hot day only one). The refrigerator should be set to 40 or below. It’s a good idea to check your refrigerator and freezer temps every so often to make sure your food is being stored at the right temperature.
Before your food gets to the refrigerator, it has to come from somewhere. If it is coming from the grocery store, there a few ways to make sure you get it home safely. If you know it will be a long time before you are home, make your grocery shopping your last stop. Meat shouldn’t be out of the refrigerator/freezer longer than it has to be. Once it is frozen it needs to stay frozen until you plan to use it. If you have a long drive home, keep a cooler in the back of your car or keep it in a hot/cold bag. When your food is being bagged, be sure to never put chemicals and meat in the same bag. Meat should always be in a bag all its own, preferably only with meats of the same kind (i.e. ground beef and roast).
The other key to avoiding food poisoning would be to cook food to its proper temperature. The USDA has many helpful charts on what foods need to be cooked to what temperature and how to properly take food temperatures. This is again one of those tasks that seems like it shouldn’t make a difference but sight alone doesn’t always tell you that something is cooked. Also, keep an eye on expiration dates as they can sneak up on us sometimes. If your meat doesn’t smell right when you are preparing it, it may be because it is past due.
Always, always, always wash your hands when preparing food, especially when dealing with raw meat. When going between meat and produce make sure to wash your hands with soap and water to avoid contamination. It is also a good idea to clean all produce before preparing it.
If you do happen to get food poisoning, it will set in hours or days after eating bad food. Symptoms should only last one to two days but can last as long as two weeks. Some symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, etc. If symptoms last more than two days it’s time to see your doctor. It is very important to stay hydrated if you do happen to get sick.
Food poisoning is not something anyone wants to contract but it does happen. With just a few simple steps infection can be avoided. Remember the “magic” numbers; zero, two and 40; check your refrigerator/freezer temperatures; cook food to the right temperature; don’t go solely off sight and always, always, always wash your hands and produce.
Community Health Education Specialist Scheurer Hospital