Food poisoning is a real threat. If you’ve ever had it you know. Widespread recalls, such as Jif Peanut Butter (Salmonella) and fresh organic strawberries (Hepatitis A) are making headlines in the U.S. and Canada. I hope you were fortunate enough to be “marked “safe from” these outbreaks. In fact, foodborne illnesses cause 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths annually, according to the CDC.
You have the right to expect safe and high-quality food when purchasing. Food suppliers and producers share responsibility for food safety. They must adhere to strict procedures throughout the complex supply chain. They track food from farm to fork to ensure regulatory compliance. If the supplier fails to control the risk, and the contamination goes unnoticed by the receiving manufacturing plant, a foodborne outbreak is likely.
Meanwhile, consumers have no control until they see a product at the supermarket. But being informed about the types of food poisoning and preventative measures can surely help. Eating food contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites puts you at risk for food poisoning. The microbes continue to grow and multiply in your body after you consume the food, resulting in an infection.
Types of food poisoning
Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments with low acidity. Symptoms of bacterial infection are vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Types of bacteria include Salmonella, E. Coli, and Listeria, which can cause severe infections and even fatalities.
Viruses are parasitic, which means they require a living host to survive. They are spread by infected persons through food and water. Norovirus can cause stomach and intestine inflammation.
Hepatitis A virus is found in the blood and stool of infected people and infects the liver.
But how can you keep yourself safe once you buy the products? Below are tips to keep yourself safe from food poisoning.
Tips to keep yourself safe from food poisoning
Know the risky foods: Some foods are more likely to cause illness than others. Evaluate the risks before eating any of the following foods, especially if you’re pregnant or sick. They include: unwashed fruits and vegetables, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and juices, ready-to-eat deli meats and soft cheeses, sushi and other raw fish, leftover rice, pasta, etc. Contamination can occur at any stage.This means it can start at the farm. But it can just as easily occur in the processing plant or during shipping, distribution or storage. Poor handling at home can also be to blame.
How to sanitize surfaces and foods
Clean and sanitize: Germs can survive on your hands, as well as cutting boards and utensils. Clean, sanitize, cook and repeat. It’s important to regularly sanitize cutting boards. Some chefs suggest dedicated cutting boards for produce and meat, poultry or fish. Try this bleach solution to clean a cutting board: Dilute 1 tablespoon of chlorine in a gallon of water. Rinse the boards thoroughly. Remember to wash fruit and vegetables just prior to consuming them. Use a produce brush to scrub vegetables and fruits with hard surfaces.
Separate: Avoid cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods.
Freeze or refrigerate
Storage: Refrigerate or freeze perishables immediately. Store leftovers in airtight containers for rapid cooling to prevent the spread of bacteria. Avoid putting large batches of hot foods directly into the refrigerator or freezer. It can raise the temperature inside the appliance to unsafe levels. At same time, don’t wait for leftovers to come to room temperature. Try speeding the cooling process: Separate the food into smaller, shallow containers. Or you can also try a cold water “bath” by placing containers over a pan of ice water. Time and temperature are critical for storage.
The danger zone: Bacteria can grow in the danger zone between 40°F. – 140°F. Keep cold items at or below 40°F, and hot foods at or above 140°F. A food thermometer is your friend here. Poke to check: Internal temperatures for whole meats should be (145°F), ground meats (160°F), and poultry (165°F).
When in doubt, throw it out
Food insecurity: Meal planning and cooking with leftovers will prevent food wastage. It will also stretch your food dollars. But don’t try to save money for the sake of food safety. Smell food and inspect it closely to see if it’s spoiled. Throw out any food if you’re in doubt! (#whenindoubtthrowitout)
Code dating: Always read labels, pay attention to code dates and avoid purchasing expired foods. Be aware that these dates often refer to quality rather than safety. Shelf-stable foods last much longer than perishable food. Depending on the type of code (see below) it is best not to consume food after the printed expiration date has passed. You cannot see, smell or taste pathogens. They could continue to multiply to dangerous levels.
Know your codes:
- Best-by: The Best-by label is usually found on shelf-stable products. This code ensures that a product is of the highest quality or flavor.
- Sell-by: This date tells the store how long the product should be displayed for sale. Be aware of discounted products with an expiring sell-by date. They must usually be consumed in the next few days (varies by product). If you can’t eat them immediately, freeze them.
- Use-by: This is the last date advised for using the product while it is in peak condition.
The freeze-drying process cuts risks
Freeze-dried foods: Freeze dried food have a safety advantage. The lack of water cuts risks. When properly processed and packaged, the risk of microbiological concerns during storage in freeze-dried products is significantly reduced due to the lack of water. Looking for a freeze-dried snack option? Try Crispy Green’s Crispy Fruits.
While there are no 100 percent safeguards, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from foodborne illness. Build proper food handling behavior and habits, as well as safe food choices into your daily routine. These will go a long ways to protecting you and your family.
— Jennifer Crandall
Jennifer Crandall is the CEO, Founder of Safe Food En Route, LLC, a food safety consulting firm that makes reliable corporate level food safety programs accessible to all companies.
Over the last 24 years, Jennifer has worked with both private and publicly held companies, balancing scientific and regulatory guidance with a clear understanding of operational and manufacturing directives that are crucial to the success of a food business. Jennifer worked in roles including 8 years in dairy and juice manufacturing and 12 years at Kroger Corporate in their Corporate Food Technology and Sourcing departments. She has worked in various roles exposing her from “farm to fork” which helped her understand the many obstacles within the supply chain. In her last 12 years at Kroger, she was the business lead for developing the software solution initially intended to ensure Kroger’s compliance to applicable FSMA regulations.
Jennifer also makes space for bridging education to industry by being a regular guest lecturer and alumni contact for Purdue University Food Science students; and has served on the Curriculum Advisory Committee for Cincinnati State’s recently approved Culinary Arts and Applied Food Science Bachelor of Arts program.
Jennifer has a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science from Purdue University and an Associate’s Degree in Agriculture from Vincennes University. Throughout her career, she has achieved many other certifications to compliment her food safety centered career including HACCP, FSVP, PCQI, BRC Internal Auditor, SQF Practitioner, ServSafe and Gluten Free Certification Program (GFCP).
- Independent director of Land Betterment Corporation
- 2020: Contributor in Dr. Darin Detwiler’s recently published book, Building the Future of Food Safety Technology: Blockchain and Beyond.