From Our Team
Spring is in the air and time for picnics and cookouts. While hamburgers, potato salad, grilled meats, and fresh vegetables may all be part of a fun-filled meal, they have something else in common. They can spread bacteria that cause food poisoning, making you, your family, and friends sick. From backyard cookouts and large celebrations to sack lunches and office snacks, make sure you plan well for food safety.
You are able to help keep food and your family safe by following four simple rules: Clean, Separate, Cook and, Chill.
Clean your hands with warm water and soap often. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds before and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops before and after preparing different foods. Also, keep your food clean by washing fruit and vegetables under running tap water.
Separate raw meats and eggs from other food in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and at home. Use one cutting board and knife to slice meat and a second to cut other food. By keeping raw meat and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods, you can reduce the chances of spreading harmful bacteria. Marinating meat in the refrigerator can add spice and flavor. But once the meat is on the grill, don’t keep basting with the liquid in which the meat was marinated; bacteria from the raw meat may be floating in the juice and contaminate your meat.
Cook food to recommended temperatures. A food thermometer accurately indicates if your meat has been cooked to a safe temperature. Different foods need to be heated to different temperatures and the color of meat is not the best indicator that it has reached proper temperature. Bacteria can spread during grinding and mix throughout ground meat. So, it is especially important to cook ground meat, like hamburger and ground sausage, to a high temperature. Avoid recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked. For example, homemade cookie dough and breakfast shakes may include raw eggs, which can make people sick.
Chill food promptly after grocery shopping and when saving leftovers. Refrigerating food too slowly allows harmful bacteria to grow and spread. Refrigerators should be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and freezers below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Dividing leftovers into multiple shallow containers allows for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. At home and at the office, check the refrigerator often and discard leftovers stored for too long or packaged foods past expiration dates. While an unopened package of lunch meat may be safely stored in a refrigerator for two weeks, once it is opened the meat is safe for only 3 to 5 days. A good rule of thumb is to eat leftovers and open packages of meat within a day or two.
Signs of food poisoning, sometimes called food borne illness, are generally vomiting, diarrhea or upset stomach, abdominal cramping, and sometimes fever. You may feel sick within minutes of eating or it may take days. If you think that you might have food poisoning, ask someone who shared the food with you how they are feeling. If they too are sick, this is a good sign that both of you need to seek medical attention. Even if others who ate the same food are not sick, it is a good idea for you to call the doctor if you are experiencing symptoms.
Eating and sharing nutritious food is a wonderful part of a healthy lifestyle. Nobody wants to be sick, especially with the symptoms of food poisoning. So remember to clean, separate, cook, and chill to keep your family gatherings healthy.
For more information on handling, storing, and preparing foods, visit www.fsis.usda.gov/home/index.asp.
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