Foodborne illness: Stay healthy


Foodborne illness:  Stay healthy

We are now in the most popular season for picnics, church suppers, camps, family reunions, and cookouts.  Every year, hundreds of cases of foodborne illness are reported, mainly due to unsafe food handling at these functions.   Has this ever happened to you?  A few hours ago you were enjoying grilled burgers, fish, cole slaw, and potato salad then all of a sudden you experience symptoms resembling intestinal flu – abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, or dehydration? 

You immediately think, “It must have been something I ate,” this is often the explanation for what many people call the “stomach flu”. Scientists however, have a different name for this problem. They call it foodborne illness.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an estimated 48 million people (1 in 6) get sick from foodborne illnesses, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year in the United States.  Often, foodborne illness occurs at these events because cooks are not familiar with how to handle large volumes of food safely. 

You and your guests don’t have to be one of the unlucky ones. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented through some simple food handling and storage steps. All it takes is a little know-how and a few everyday weapons such as soap and water, a refrigerator and a food thermometer to check the temperature.

Food illness is nearly 100 percent preventable if safe food-handling practices are followed.  Following these basic safe food-handling practices can help reduce foodborne outbreaks and or illnesses.  

Practice good personal hygiene.
• Wash hands, utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water before and after food preparation and especially after preparing meat, poultry, eggs or seafood to protect adequately against bacteria. Using a disinfectant cleaner or a mixture of bleach and water on surfaces and antibacterial soap on hands can provide some added protection.
• Never lick cooking utensils or dip you fingers into food to taste it.  This could contaminate the food.  Instead, use a clean spoon to dip out a portion to taste.
• Restrain your hair by wearing a hair net or pulling it back in a ponytail.

Prepare food safely.
• Store raw meat and poultry separately from foods that will not be cooked or that are ready-to-eat, such as fruits and vegetables and other cooked foods.
• Use separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare raw meats and poultry.  This decreases the chance of contaminating foods that are ready-to-eat.

Cook food safely. Cook meat and poultry thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.  The only safe way to make sure meat or poultry is cooked well is to use a food thermometer:
• Poultry should be cooked to at least 165°F.
• Ground meat should be cooked to at least 155°F.
• Egg dishes should be cooked to at least 155°F.
• Pork or beef roast should be cooked to at least 145°F.
• Fish should be cooked to at least 145°F.

Transport fresh food safely. Store the following items on ice and refrigerate them immediately when you reach your destination:
• Raw meats, fish, and poultry
• Deli meats
• Eggs
• Fruits and vegetables.
• Dairy products.

Serve food safely. When serving food, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  Bacteria grow best in foods that are between 90°F and 100°F, which is lukewarm.  During holding, hot foods should be at least 140°F or hotter, while cold foods should be at most 40°F or colder.

Don’t risk your health or the health of others when these simple steps will help you reduce food-related illness.

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability.  In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Christine W. Smith
Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC  27533
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511

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