By: Pooja Sharma
It might seem daunting to remember each and every single thing that might cause foodborne illness. It can easily become overwhelming. But having some simple practices on hand can help prevent these uncomfortable, and sometimes deadly, illnesses. We have penned down 5 food mistakes that could increase your chances of food poisoning.
#1 Not Washing Hands
You should always properly wash your hands before touching any kind of food, even the raw food that is supposed to be cooked. Wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds before you handle the food or start eating. It is very important to keep your hands clean after using the washroom because not only the toilets are dirty playgrounds of bacteria, but feces even in small amounts, can contaminate the whole food you touch. A single gram of feces contains around 1 trillion of germs. Gross!
Care should also be taken while handling raw meat or seafood because even they can contain some left amounts of animal feces. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, etc. live inside the intestines of these animals. Especially poultry and their feces are the sources for many outbreaks.
What Are The Implications?
There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of diseases that can spread when people do not wash their hands. The most common foodborne ones include: Salmonella, E. coli, Norovirus, Hepatitis, and Staphylococcus aureus. Some respiratory infections, such as influenza and adenovirus, are also spread this way. Some of them can cause serious complications, especially among children. Around 1.8 million children around the world die each year due to diarrheal diseases. Around 1 in 3 of them could be protected by simply putting this simple act of washing hands in place.
Washing your hands can also slow down the rise in antibiotic resistance. Because the less sickness, the less antibiotic prescription, which would automatically bring down the problem of resistance.
#2 Undercooking Meat and Seafood
This one is probably nothing new to read. Undercooked and raw meat, poultry, and seafood are the most common sources of food related outbreaks in the US. Fish being the top sources of the foodborne outbreaks. Therefore, it is recommended to maintain proper standards and practices while handling and cooking meat or seafood.
What are the implications?
Undercooked and improperly stored or served meats are the top cause of food-related outbreaks that happen in the US. The illnesses associated with this unsanitary practice are E. coli, Salmonella and Vibriosis. All of them can cause severe complications in the person affected. Some of the symptoms might be long term or even cause death.
What you should do?
First of all, it is a good idea to buy meat and seafood that is stored under refrigeration and once you buy it, do the same.
Second, cook all the meat, poultry, and seafood at their proper cooking temperatures, as noted below:
- Cook beef, pork, steak, or lamb for at least 3 minutes at 145℉. Cook the ground ones at 160℉.
- Cook all poultry to at least 165℉.
Fish and Seafood:
- All seafood should be cooked until it’s opaque. Fish should be flaky.
- Cook clams, oysters, and mussels until their shells open. Do not have the open whose shells do not open.
- Shucked clams and oysters should be cooked until they are firm and opaque.
It is recommended to refrain from eating any raw cookie dough – both store bought and homemade. This is because raw cookie dough contains raw eggs and raw flour.
#3 Mixing Up Raw Meat with Vegetables
Cross contamination is the top cause of foodborne illness in the home. You should never let raw meat, poultry, and seafood touch any of your cooked foods or raw fruits and vegetables. Foodborne pathogens can easily transfer from one to the other risking contamination. Even the raw juices from raw meat that touch the fresh produce and cooked foods can cause contamination. You should always put both of them separately no matter what. Use separate knives, cutting boards, etc. for raw and cooked foods.
Also, do not use the same marinade for raw and cooked meat or seafood. The bacteria can very easily spread from raw food to the cooked one. And it is certainly not a good choice to cook the cooked food again and eat it, thinking that the bacteria is killed. You should throw it away entirely if this happens mistakenly. And since, we are talking about marinating, it is best that you do not marinate meat, seafood, and poultry on the counter as the germs can spread easily at 40-140° Fahrenheit. Always marinate these foods in the refrigerator and use the same marinate again after bringing it to a boil.
You should also take care of not washing raw meat, seafood, and poultry on kitchen surfaces and countertops as the bacteria can easily spread onto these surfaces and contaminate other fresh produce and foods.
#4 Leaving Leftovers Out
Do not leave any food out at room temperature for a long time. It should be maximum out for 1-2 hours after cooking. Every food should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Refrigeration of most foods – especially meat, seafood and poultry – should be done at around 4℃.
Store raw and cooked foods separately. Store raw meat away from raw vegetables at all costs. Everything should be stored in airtight containers to avoid any contamination. Even rice and sprouts are two plant based foods that can cause illness if not stored properly. Room temperature is the perfect temperature at which pathogens multiply and spread, so make sure that you either cool or heat the leftovers as soon as possible.
#5 Thawing Foods on Counter
Thawing food on the countertops or any other kitchen surfaces can spread the infection easily. It is just as unsafe as storing leftovers at the room temperature. Room temperature – between 40℉ to 140℉ is like the danger zone for us and happy zone for the pathogens. They multiply rapidly in this temperature.
What should be done?
Thawing should be done safely by three ways – refrigerating, in cold water, or microwaving. These three methods are effective and safe for thawing your food.