September is National Food Safety Education Month.
During this time, awareness regarding safe food handling and preventing foodborne illnesses is raised. Every year, an estimated one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne sickness.
Food safety is not just an issue for restaurants.
How food is handled and stored in the home is also of great importance. Providing communities with information on the best practices for the safe handling of food, why some individuals are more likely to get food poisoning than others, and how to manage food poisoning are a few of the issues National Food Safety Education Month sheds some light on.
The first step in staying safe is maintaining safe food handling. The four habits to consider in foodborne contamination and illness are:
- Clean – personal hygiene
- Separate – avoiding cross-contamination
- Cook – cooking food to the proper temperature
- Chill – keeping food at safe temperatures.
Germs associated with poor personal hygiene have the greatest effect on food borne illness and outbreaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 89 percent of food poisoning outbreaks were caused by bacterial contamination of food by food-service workers. Washing hands properly is essential when handling food, whether at work or at home.
Avoiding cross-contamination is vital. Even after you’ve cleaned your hands and the surrounding surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods. Keeping these foods separate when using cutting boards, when storing in the refrigerator, and when shopping at the grocery store helps cut down the risk of contaminating food with harmful bacteria.
Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry, seafood, and other cooked foods reach a safe minimum internal temperature. Keeping food hot, 140˚F or above, after cooking is also important to avoid any additional bacterial growth.
Keeping your refrigerator at 40°F is one of the most effective ways to keep yourself safe from foodborne illnesses. Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness-causing bacteria. So it’s important to chill food promptly, and refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.
Who Is at Risk?
Food poisoning or foodborne illness can affect anyone. But certain groups of people are more likely to get sick from contaminated food than others. These groups include children under 5, pregnant women, adults 65 and older, and anyone with a weakened immune system. When a body’s immune system is unable to fight germs and sickness due to one of these factors, food poisoning can be deadly. By following the four basic habits of food safety, you can help prevent foodborne illness for yourself and others.
What are Food Poisoning Symptoms?
Symptoms of food poisoning vary and can occur within hours or may not occur for days. Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Depending on the type of bacteria or parasite, the amount of bad food consumed, and the health of the individual affected, symptoms may range from mild to severe.
What Should You Do If You Have Food Poisoning?
If you get food poisoning, the best thing to do is support your system and help prevent dehydration. Start by drinking small amounts of clear liquids to replace the minerals that you lose if your symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. Stay away from dairy, caffeine, alcohol, bubbly or fizzy drinks, or spicy and fatty foods. They can just make everything worse. Be sure to get plenty of rest.
To build and maintain a food-safe environment, good food-safety decisions and practices should exist both at home and when dining out. Using good personal hygiene and food safety practices at home help to develop a more aware and conscientious person to carry food safety knowledge out into their work environment.