Cooking with the right stuff

Posted on August 13, 2012 by

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In just the last few weeks, some significant food poisoning outbreaks have occurred. Three Australian Olympic badminton players came down with food poisoning while training in London and had to miss some of their warm-up matches. In Denver, 60 residents of a homeless shelter were hospitalized with food poisoning.  And nearly 30,000 pounds of ground beef was recalled in seven states after 33 people reported food poisoning due to salmonella in the beef. As these stories show, food poisoning is still a threat, and it can strike anywhere, at any time.

Where do those little bacteria hide?

Bacteria that cause food poisoning can hide in just about any kind of food. For example, Campylobacter typically is found in chicken, salmonella is most often found in meat and eggs, and norovirus hides out on people who prepare foods. In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen an increase in bacteria that come into the country through imported foods, particularly fish from Asia. Another major concern, particularly as people shift to farm-fresh foods, is that raw milk can act as a host to many types of bacteria that would otherwise be killed during the pasteurization process.

Food poisoning: More than a sick day

Although it may seem that food poisoning is something that makes people miserable for a day until it works its way out of their system, a British study has found some troublesome results. Even just one bout of food poisoning causes some kidney damage, and there are many other long-term consequences as well. High blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis are all on the list, and people who have food poisoning frequently are at an even higher risk.

Cooking at home with the right methods and ingredients

In the face of these dangers, it’s time for home cooks to get down to business when it comes to preventing food poisoning. There are several easy ways to guard against it, and although there’s no surefire method for preventing all forms of food poisoning, being cautious is a good place to start.

1. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, particularly if they will be eaten raw. It may seem like a chore to wash lettuce for a salad, but a cheap salad spinner will help a lot. Plus, washing food helps get rid of those pesticides sprayed all over many types of produce, too. If you order lemons at a restaurant, avoid letting the rind touch your food because they’re rarely washed.

2. Clean up after handling raw meat, which is home to a host of bacteria. It’s a good idea to have one cutting board devoted entirely to raw meat, and to wash it with hot, soapy water right away. If the meat or its juice has touched the counters, wipe those down too, and not with the dish sponge. Use a cloth with a disinfectant instead.

3. Cook and rinse produce with filtered water. This will significantly decrease the chance of getting food poisoning from water-borne bacteria. Owning a refrigerator with a water filter provides a steady supply of water that’s ready at any time.

4. Keep hot food hot (at least 140 degrees) and cold food cold (lower than 40 degrees). During the summer, when temperatures outside can quickly spoil cold food like pasta salads, it’s especially important to monitor the temperature of food.

Always wash hands with soap and water before and after cooking. Although most people think to wash their hands before cooking, it’s afterwards that often gets forgotten. Lingering bacteria can live on surfaces or your hands and if ingested, could cause food poisoning.

Initiatives to prevent food poisoning

Education and regulation are essential when it comes to preventing food-borne illnesses. Home cooks can take simple steps to reduce the chance that they will serve contaminated foods, but even the most careful cook cannot control factors outside the home. That’s where regulation becomes helpful. For example, Pennsylvania dairies have to test for pathogens in their raw milk regularly and New York City’s restaurant food poisoning cases have decreased since restaurant windows display grades on how sanitary they are. When dealing with questionable food, “better safe than sorry” is always a good motto.

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© 2012 US Food Safety Corporation. No copyright claim is made for portions of this blog and linked items that are works of the United States Government, state governments or third parties.