Food safety is key when it comes to preventing food poisoning. While it may not be entirely possible to always prevent, there are certain measures a person can proactively take to significantly reduce risk and frequency of food poisoning experiences. The everyday person may not have control over how certain foods are grown, harvested or packaged, but can certainly influence the handling of foods (preparation for and cooking of food), as well as avoid any known means of organism transmission (e.g. unclean surfaces and cross-contamination).
A person can also avoid certain foods known to be high risk for possible food poisoning, such as those consumed in raw form (e.g. sushi). Care can be taken when it comes to the purchasing, storing and preparing of fish products, deli meats or processed meats, ground beef (containing meat from several different animals), unpasteurised milk and cheese, and raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables.
The basics of food safety, as recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) involve (8):
- Clean: Always thoroughly wash hands with soap and clean, warm water before and after handling, preparing, cooking or eating food. Hands should also always be thoroughly washed after handling raw meat, and all surfaces and utensils used to handle foods for cooking preparation should be washed before and after coming into contact with it. Raw foods such as fruits and vegetables should also be thoroughly washed (under running water), even if they are to be peeled, before being cooked. Utensils and surfaces used to handle food should all be washed thoroughly with warm / hot soapy water once used.
- Separate: Meat (red, poultry and fish) that is uncooked should never share a plate, board or other surface with other foods, such as vegetables (or other ready-to-eat products). Different types of foodstuffs, and especially meat which are prone to containing pathogens, must be kept separate so as not to potentially spread harmful organisms (via cross-contamination). Cutting boards and knives used in food preparation should also be used separately for different foods (or thoroughly washed in between the handling of individual foods stuffs for preparation).
- Cook: Prime temperatures for bacterial growth is estimated at between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F). Hence, foods are best kept either below or above that temperature range. Meat, poultry, and fish or seafood, as well as eggs, should ideally be cooked through to a minimum temperature of around 160°C (320°F) to kill off any organisms that may occur, and thus avoid the risk for food poisoning.
- Chill: All perishable foods, including leftovers, should be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours (or 1 hour in the summer months), disallowing organism growth. Any food that is frozen is best thawed in the refrigerator, under cold water or in a microwave oven (not at room temperature). Food that is thawed in the microwave should ideally be cooked immediately. Any food, including raw fruits or vegetables which have been cut up, should also not be left at room temperature for a long period of time, and should rather be refrigerated. Room temperature (20 to 22°C / 68 to 72°F) stimulates pathogen growth, making any foodstuff that has been left standing for an extended period potentially risky to eat.
Other prevention tips for those who fall into high-risk categories include:
- Avoiding raw or undercooked (rare) meat and poultry, fish and shellfish, as well as eggs or products which contain them (like cookie or biscuit dough).
- Avoiding raw sprouts (such as radishes bean sprouts or alfalfa)
- Avoiding unpasteurised dairy products, juices and ciders, soft cheeses (feta, camembert, blue cheese, or Brie), pate’s and meat spreads, and luncheon or deli meats.
How long can leftovers be safely kept in the refrigerator?
The general rule of thumb is about 3 to 4 days, thereafter food poisoning risk increases. If it can be foreseen that leftovers may not be eaten within that time period, they are best frozen and safely thawed before being consumed instead.
Reheating of leftovers should also be handled safely. The internal temperature of food should be at least 74°C (or 165°F) before it can safely be eaten.
Pathogens, like bacteria typically do not alter the taste, smell or look of foodstuffs and therefore do not generally give away many tell-tale signs of a potential problem. If in doubt, throw it out.
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 31 August 2017. Keep Food Safe: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html [Accessed 30.10.2017]