Contaminated foods cause foodborne illnesses or food poisoning; it can cause several symptoms such as stomach cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting, or even death. There is often no way to see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria like Salmonella, which brings me to the importance of food handling safety. Cleanliness plays a key factor in food safety and separating food to prevent cross-contamination, cooking foods at the correct temperatures, and putting away food by letting it chill and refrigerate promptly. The following listed are basics for food handling safety.
Basics For Food Handling Safety
- Purchase refrigerated or frozen items after selecting your non-perishables.
- Don’t buy food past “Sell-By,” “Use-By,” or other expiration dates.
- Don’t buy food with mold, major bruises, cuts, food packages with holes, tears, or openings.
- Frozen foods should be solid, with no signs of thawing. Refrigerated foods should feel cold to the touch.
- Ensure if safety seals are loose or tampered with. Damaged lids on jars indicate the vacuum is lost, and the product may be contaminated.
- Avoid buying cans that are deeply dented, bulging, or rusting, indicating that bacteria can enter the can.
- Put fresh fruits and veggies on top of other foods.
- Buy milk, dairy, deli products toward the end.
- Ensure proper refrigeration of fresh fish, the flesh should be shiny/firm, not separating from the bone, and the odor is fresh and mild rather than overly “fishy.”
- Ensure packaged seafood is well-packed in ice and that packages are sealed tightly and free of dents and tears. Avoid packages containing ice crystals, and this may indicate the seafood has previously thawed.
- Choose packaged chicken that looks pink, not gray.
- Check for the Safe Food Handling label on bacon packages and fresh sausage, and this label indicates the meat has undergone safe processing, including handling and cooking tips.
- Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags before placing them in your cart, preventing them from leaking/dripping onto other foods.
Hot foods are kept hot and cold foods are kept cold to prevent the growth of the microorganisms that can spoil your food or make you ill. Follow the following:
- Groceries must be stored immediately after grocery shopping.
- The temperature of refrigerated food can go up 8-10°F on a typical trip home from the store.
- Perishable foods must be refrigerated within 2 hours and only 1 hour if it is over 90°F outside.
- Keep perishable foods out of the trunk in summer; instead, place them in the air-conditioned car.
- The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
- Fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats must be cooked or frozen within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork within 3-5 days.
- Perishable food like meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food.
- Canned foods are safe indefinitely if not exposed to freezing temperatures or temperatures above 90 °F. High-acid canned food like tomatoes or fruits are best for 12-18 months; low-acid canned food like meats and vegetables for 2 to 5 years.
Thawing meat and poultry products at room temperature or partially cooking are examples of practices that can seem convenient to save time but may result in bacterial growth by keeping food at inadequate temperatures where bacteria can multiply much faster. Follow the following for properly thawing, preparing, and cooking food.
- The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Ensure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food.
- For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
- Meat and poultry can be thawed in the microwave.
- Meat and poultry must be cooked immediately after thawing.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before/after handling food.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food to avoid cross-contamination.
- Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish inside the refrigerator.
- Wash cutting board, utensils, and countertops with hot soapy water after cutting raw meats or sanitize using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F.
- Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F.
Assume responsibility in preventing foodborne illnesses by assuring food safety when preparing food for ourselves or others. We are the last to handle the food before it’s eaten. Take precautions when serving food and putting leftovers away.
- Keep foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Keep foods cold by placing dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often.
- Hot foods should be held at 140 °F or warmer.
- Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder.
- Throw any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature was above 90 °F.
- Place food into containers and immediately put it in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
- Use cooked leftovers within 4 days, reheat leftovers to 165 °F.
- Meat and poultry that has been defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking; if already thawed using other methods, food must be cooked.
Furthermore, it’s crucial that in the event of a disaster to prevent illnesses from unsafe food. After a disaster, make sure to throw away any perishable food that hasn’t been refrigerated or frozen due to power outages. Foods that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater, and foods with an unusual odor, color, or texture. When a power outage occurs, it is important to keep the refrigerator/freezer’s doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator can keep food safe for up 4 hours without power if the door is kept shut, whereas a full freezer can keep food safe for 48 hours or 24 hours if only half-full without power if the door is kept shut. Throw out the following foods:
- All perishable foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers, in a refrigerator after 4 hours or more since the power has been off.
- All perishable foods in the freezer if they have thawed.
When in doubt, it’s better to throw away food. Food containing ice crystals and feel as cold as if refrigerated can be refrozen or cooked. Check this chart provided by the CDC to list what foods should be thrown out and foods that can be refrozen.
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Food poisoning symptoms come in many shapes and sizes. There are many symptoms of food poisoning, and they vary from person to person. Common food poisoning symptoms include; upset stomach, stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
You may be wondering how long it takes for “bad” food to “poison” me. In other words, how long does it take after consuming or drinking contaminated food to ensure the effect of food poisoning? It can take anywhere from a couple of hours or sometimes even days to develop food poisoning symptoms.
However, it is important to know that it is essential to stay hydrated once you start experiencing these symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and others, due to increased liquids loss. This will help prevent dehydration.
People with a higher risk of food poisoning
Everyone is at risk of having food poisoning. These germs do not discriminate. There are four groups of people who are more prone to have food poisoning. The groups are Adults over 65, children who are younger than five years old, people with weak immune systems, and pregnant women.
However, some people are at higher risk of food poisoning. Adults who are 65 and older have a higher risk of becoming food poisoned. This occurs because the immune system and organs of people who are older than 65 do not recognize and or get rid of these harmful bacteria like their body once did.
Like older people, young children have an immune system that is still developing, and they are more prone to have food poisoning. Food poisoning can be very dangerous if not treated adequately, but specifically, with children, food poisoning can be dangerous because they can easily become dehydrated due to diarrhea and vomiting.
In addition to older folks and children, people with weak immune systems are also prone to food poisoning. Causes of a weak immune system can be diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, alcoholism, STDS/HIVS, recovering from chemotherapy, and many other things that can weaken the immune system. However, when this occurs, they are more prone to food poisoning due to a weakened immune system.
Finally, pregnant women are also more prone to food poisoning. From all germs, actually, according to the CDC, women to fall pregnant are ten times more likely to get a listeria infection compared to the average person (CDC).
Foods that cause food poisoning
According to the CDC, seven groups of food are more likely to cause food poisoning. The groups are as follows.
- Chicken, beef, pork, and turkey
- Raw or undercooked or poorly cooked chicken, beef, pork, and turkey can cause food poisoning. Make sure they are cooked to their ideal temperature. They all vary.
- Fruits and vegetables
- If fruits and vegetables are not washed properly, they can be contaminated with many germs, which would cause food poisoning.
- Raw milk, raw milk soft cheeses, and other raw milk products
- With Raw milk, raw milk, soft cheeses, and other raw milk products, you have to be very cautious. They can make you very sick if these kinds of milk are unpasteurized, they can contain harmful bacteria. Make sure when consuming these foods to say they “pasteurized.”
- Make sure eggs are cooked thoroughly and all the way and do not eat raw batter that contains eggs because the eggs are not yet cooked.
- Seafood and raw shellfish
- According to the CDC, “cook seafood to 145°F, and heat leftover seafood to 165°F. To avoid foodborne infection, do not eat raw or undercooked fish, shellfish, or food containing raw or undercooked seafood, such as sashimi, some sushi, and ceviche” (CDC).
- Make sure to cook your sports thoroughly because they grow in humid conditions.
- Raw flour
- Flour is raw and has to be cooked like eggs. So like eggs, flour also has to be cooked before consuming. Make sure it is cooked thoroughly before consuming it.
- Chicken, beef, pork, and turkey
Foodborne Germs and Illnesses
Examples of germs and illnesses
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the following are the symptoms and common food contaminant sources for each illness. The illnesses include staph, clostridium perfringens, salmonella, norovirus, botulism vibrio, campylobacter, E. coli, and Cyclospora.
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)
“Symptoms begin 30 minutes – 6 hours after exposure: Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea. Common food sources: Foods that are not cooked after handling, such as sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches” (CDC).
“Symptoms begin 6 – 24 hours after exposure: Diarrhea, stomach cramps. Vomiting and fever are uncommon. Usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours. Common food sources: Beef or poultry, huge roasts; gravies; dried or precooked foods” (CDC)
“Symptoms begin 6 hours – 6 days after exposure: Diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, vomiting. Common food sources: Raw or undercooked chicken, turkey, and meat; eggs; unpasteurized (raw) milk and juice; raw fruits and vegetables
Other sources: Many animals, including backyard poultry, reptiles and amphibians, and rodents (pocket pets)” (CDC)
“Symptoms begin 12 – 48 hours after exposure: Diarrhea, nausea/stomach pain, vomiting. Common food sources: Contaminated food like leafy greens, fresh fruits, shellfish (such as oysters), or water
Other sources: Infected person; touching contaminated surfaces” (CDC)
Clostridium botulinum (Botulism)
“Symptoms begin 18 – 36 hours after exposure: Double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech. Difficulty swallowing, breathing, and dry mouth. Muscle weakness and paralysis. Symptoms start in the head and move down as severity increases. Common food sources: Improperly canned or fermented foods, usually homemade. Prison-made illicit alcohol” (CDC).
“Symptoms begin 1 – 4 days after exposure: Watery diarrhea, nausea. Stomach cramps, vomiting, fever, chills. Common food sources: Raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters” (CDC)
“Symptoms begin 2 – 5 days after exposure: Diarrhea (often bloody), stomach cramps/pain, fever. Common food sources: Raw or undercooked poultry, raw (unpasteurized) milk, and contaminated water” (CDC)
E. coli (Escherichia coli)
“Symptoms begin 3 – 4 days after exposure: Severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Around 5–10% of people diagnosed with this infection develop a life-threatening complication. Common food sources: Raw or undercooked ground beef, raw (unpasteurized) milk and juice, raw vegetables (such as lettuce), raw sprouts, contaminated water” (CDC)
“Symptoms begin 1 week after exposure: Watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Common food sources: Raw fruits or vegetables and herbs” (CDC)
Food poisoning prevention
There are many things about food safety; however, I will mainly focus on food poisoning and chemical safety concerns. Food poisoning can be easily prevented. There are many ways we can prevent it from happening, starting from reheating, storing food, preparing/handling food, buying food, personal hygiene, environment, and wash dishcloths.
I will go into further details on buying food, preparing/ handling, and preventing chemical risks. We all know that one of the best ways to prevent being poisoned is to steer away from eating raw foods, like eggs, meat, and fish, while staying away from unwashed fruits and vegetables. To prevent food poisoning, we need to understand the meaning of food poisoning fully. Therefore, when consuming food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, chemicals, parasites, toxins, fungi, etc., will lead to food poisoning.
Many of us never acknowledge that food poisoning can occur in the store while grocery shopping. A major way to prevent food poisoning at the store is to keep in mind that
we still need to separate our foods like fruits from uncooked meats. We should separate foods starting with our grocery cart because the raw meat can leak the water from inside the container to your veggies or fruits, resulting in food contamination, which leads to food poisoning if consumed. We also have to consider that once we touch the juices leaked, our hands and the surfaces we touch, including where the meat has been placed, will now be contaminated. Studies have shown that meat juice was detected on 61% of poultry packages, 34% on shoppers’ hands, 41% on grocery bags, 60% on kitchen surfaces, and 51% on food items. ((Chen et al.)) Once we return from the grocery store, we need to always clean our food before storing them in the refrigerator. In this case, we can use a strainer for fruits so that the fruits do not have to come in direct contact with our sink, which may be contaminated. We can clean them with water alone or add some vinegar to the water. When getting ready to prepare a meal, we have to handle and prepare properly. Therefore, you should begin by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and use a clean paper towel to dry. Once they are washed, we need to remember that we need to wash our foods before cutting into them. When cooking vegetables and meats, we need to use different cutting boards and different knives to avoid cross-contamination. Therefore, when cooking, you must constantly wash your hands after handling different foods and using the restroom. A good way to avoid food poisoning is to avoid handling or even cooking meals when feeling sick. However, our first thought about food safety is food poisoning.
Chemical risks are also a major part. For example, the ink from packaging can relocate into the food. We also have agrochemicals, residues from pesticides, natural toxins, environmental contaminants, metals, packaging, veterinary drugs, etc. Some of the toxic effects of consuming foods that contain chemicals are liver disease, impairment of the nervous system, DNA damage, cancer, kidney damage, even though those are a result of large amounts of ingested chemicals and occurs rarely. The study of adverse effects from consuming chemicals is limited since symptoms or adverse effects are not demonstrated right away; instead, they develop gradually over time. However, we have found what certain chemicals can affect our bodies.
- Bisphenols, such as BPA. They can act like the hormone estrogen and interfere with puberty and fertility. Bisphenols can also increase body fat and cause problems with the immune system and nervous system. They are found in the lining of food and soda cans, plastics with the number 3 or 7, and cash register receipts, among other places. They used to be found in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups; while this has been banned, older bottles and cups may contain them. (McCarthy)
- Phthalates. These can also act like hormones, interfering with male genital development, and can increase the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. They are ubiquitous, found not just in plastic packaging, garden hoses, and inflatable toys, but also in things like nail polish, hairsprays, lotions, and fragrances. (McCarthy)
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs). They can lead to low-birthweight babies and problems with the immune system, the thyroid, and fertility. They are commonly found in grease-proof paper, cardboard packaging, and commercial household products such as water-repellent fabric and nonstick pans, among other places. (McCarthy)
- Perchlorate. This chemical also interferes with thyroid function and can disrupt early brain development. It’s found in some dry food packaging — it’s used to decrease static electricity — and sometimes in drinking water. (McCarthy)
- Artificial food colors. These have been found to increase symptoms in children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. They are found in all sorts of food products, but especially those marketed for children. (McCarthy)
- Nitrates and nitrites. These can interfere with the thyroid and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body. They can also increase the risk of certain cancers. They are used to preserve food and enhance its color. They are commonly found in processed foods, especially meats. (McCarthy)
Safe minimum cooking temperatures information, please visit:
- Basics for Handling FoodSafely.(2015).Usda.Gov.https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/basics-for-handling-food-safely/ct_index/
- Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency | Food Safety | CDC. (2020, September 8). Www.Cdc.Gov. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe-after-emergency.html
- Food Shopping Safety Guidelines. (n.d.). Www.Eatright.org. https://www.eatright.org/food/planning-and-prep/smart-shopping/food-shopping-safety-guidelines
- Chen, Fur-Chi, et al. “Contamination by Meat Juice When Shopping for Packages of Raw Poultry.” Journal of Food Protection, Allen Press, 1 May 2018, meridian.allenpress.com/jfp/article-abstract/81/5/835/175077/Contamination-by-Meat-Juice-When-Shopping-for?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
- Barman, Vlad, et al. “Top 14 Tips on How to Prevent Food Poisoning Help You Avoid Illness.” Health Advice, Fitness Tips, and Reviews – Health Review Center, 11 Dec. 2013, healthreviewcenter.com/health/14-tips-on-how-to-prevent-food-poisoning/.
- Claire McCarthy, MD. “Common Food Additives and Chemicals Harmful to Children.” Harvard Health Blog, 26 July, 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/common-food-additives-and-chemicals-harmful-to-children-2018072414326.
- CDC. “Food Poisoning Symptoms.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Aug. 2018, www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html.
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