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Food Safety: How to prevent food borne illnesses?

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

Food borne illness (sometimes called food poisoning or food borne infection) is quite common and costly. You can get food poisoning after eating foods that are contaminated with germs or other toxic substances.

Some foods are more associated with food poisoning than others. The most common foods that cause food poisoning include raw meats (such as chicken, beef, pork, turkey), seafood, especially shellfish, dairy (and products made from it), and fruits and vegetables.

Handling meat properly is key in protecting against viruses such as Salmonella and E. Coli. You should not wash meat, although recipes may call for this. Washing meat does not get rid of any bacteria; instead, it may spread to countertops, utensils, or other food items, which can cross contaminate other things in your kitchen. When cooking meat, use a cooking thermometer to check if it is done or not. Despite myths, you can NOT check if meat is done just by looking at the color or its juices.

Although this is not as common as food poisoning in raw meat, dangerous bacteria can survive in fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables. The safest way to consume produce is by, of course, cooking it. If you really don't want to heat it up at all, washing it under hot water for at least 20 seconds is the next best way to go. Never, under any circumstances, eat unwashed raw produce.

Four Steps to Food Safety - Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill:

Did you know bacteria can spread rapidly if it is left at room temperature for longer than 1 hour? Here are some steps to properly prepare food to keep you and your loved ones safe:

1. Clean: Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating. Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen so it's important to also wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.

2. Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. By that, I mean that raw meat and seafood can spread germs to ready to eat food, unless you keep them separate. Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meats and seafood and separate them in the refrigerator. When shopping, keep meat and seafood away from fresh produce, as food from other animals are most likely to carry bad bacteria.

3. Cook (to the right temperature):

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick and the only way to see if it is thoroughly cooked is with a food thermometer. It is almost impossible to tell if food is safely cooked just by checking its color and texture.

Most meats need to cook until it reaches at least 160 degrees (Fahrenheit).

4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature for more than 1 hour. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) or below and don't let it stay out for more than 1 hour. Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator or in cold water. Never thaw foods on the counter because bacteria can multiply quickly in parts of the food that reach room temperature.

Advancing Technology to Find Outbreaks:

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is a too used to generate a DNA fingerprint. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) scientists and partners use WGS data to determine if certain types of bacteria have similar DNA fingerprints which could mean they came from the same food or same processing facility. When scientists detect a cluster of illnesses caused by the same bacteria, people can then investigate more to determine if they came from the same food. As you can see, WGS provides more detailed genetic information than previous methods and it helps CDC detect and solve more outbreaks while they are still small, and with precision. It can also link ill patients to likely sources of infection faster and more accurately.

BONUS - The background behind bottled water:

Is bottled water bad for you? Well, bottled water can contain a serious bacteria called Cryptosporidium, and although it is rare, it is known to happen. Before drinking bottled water, it is important for you to find out if it has been manufactured correctly and was properly treated with no contamination. Contaminated bottled water can harm your health, including causing gastrointestinal illness and neurological disorders. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems may be more likely to get sick from contaminated bottled water.



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