If you’ve ever experienced food poisoning, you know that it changes you. One moment you’re a happy-go-lucky innocent in the buffet line…the next you’re a heaving, sweating, shivering, dehydrated mess.
My first (and only) brush with food poisoning turned me into a nitpicky, worrying food-a-phobe. Just the sight of a buffet or food warming in a slow-cooker is enough to give me flashbacks. And I’ve become a complete food safety fanatic when cooking for family and friends!
What causes food poisoning?
Basically, the way you get food poisoning is by consuming food that has been contaminated with a variety of germs or toxic substances. And there are so many of them! There’s a veritable alphabet soup of sickness, and it’s all waiting for you to let down your guard. OK…that’s a bit extreme (until you remember I was traumatized by a tainted buffet). But, it is important to be alert to food safety risks and keep your eyes open for potential problems.
Simple food safety guidelines
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common germs that cause food poisoning are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter. And, luckily, there are some food safety guidelines you can follow to help protect yourself from all of them.
1. Clean up often
The best way to protect yourself from foodborne germs is to keep your hands, kitchen surfaces, and cooking utensils clean. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including on your hands, utensils, and cutting boards. Here’s a great source for clean-up tips — there’s even a video!
2. Wash your produce
Always rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water…and I don’t mean just a quick rinse. Thoroughly rinsing your produce not only rids it of dirt and pesticides (because nobody wants to eat those), it also helps reduce the risk of transmitting E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Follow these tips to be sure you get it right.
3. Separate foods to avoid contamination
Uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread and contaminate other foods they touch. That’s why it’s important to separate them even after you’ve cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly.
4. Cook foods thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. The rule of thumb is 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry, but this Safe Minimum Temperature Chart breaks it down for each type of meat.
5. Keep foods cold
Germs can grow quickly — in less than two hours — unless food is refrigerated. It happens even faster in the summer heat, so don’t leave food out too long. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F. And, remember, freezing keeps food safe until you can cook it, but it doesn’t destroy harmful bacteria. When it’s time to defrost that frozen food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using the microwave or thawing in the fridge or in cold water.
How dangerous is food poisoning?
Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. They may range from mild to severe. For most healthy people, the symptoms pass within several hours or several days. But you should always talk to your doctor if you have concerns.