Food borne illnesses are a real risk, even with all the safeguards that are in place in the United States to help ensure that we have access to safe food. Some of the responsibility for food safety lies in your own kitchen, too. It’s so easy to protect yourself and your family from food borne illnesses. All it takes is some common sense and a few extra minutes in the kitchen.
For those of you who are home canners, we talked about being careful during each of the three stages of canning – preparation, canning, and storage. Starting with a clean kitchen, cleaning as you go, and using fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables to can are important. During processing, it’s important to know the best method to preserve the type of food you’re working with. After you’ve canned your foods, be sure the seals are intact, and store them in a cool, dry, dark storage area. Following these guidelines will help to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination in your stored produce.
There are some other things to be aware of when you’re cooking at home. A common practice in many homes is to rinse off chicken before cooking it. This is not a good food safety practice, as this can actually spread more bacteria around your kitchen. Bacteria like Salmonella or Campylobacter are often present on chicken. With appropriate handling and cooking techniques, these bacteria are not usually a risk. But practices like rinsing chicken, leaving it at room temperature for too long, or using the same utensils for raw chicken and fresh fruits and vegetables can increase your risk for food poisoning.
Other meats that can be contaminated with bacteria are ground meats and pork. Ground meats (like beef or pork) can be contaminated with E. coli. There are many different types of E. coli, and most of them are not dangerous. A few types of E. coli can cause food poisoning. Yersinia is a bacteria that can be present on pork. Again, proper handling and cooking drastically decreases the risk of food poisoning from these bacteria.
Cryptosporidium can cause food poisoning from drinking contaminated water. Shigella is a common cause of diarrhea, especially in toddlers. Both of these diseases are commonly spread due to poor personal hygiene. Following good hygiene practices – always washing hands after using the bathroom and before handling food – can significantly decrease the risk of developing one of these food borne illnesses.
There are a lot of things that you can do at home to help prevent food poisoning. The most important things to keep in mind are food storage, preparation, cleaning, handling, cooking, and refrigeration of leftovers. There are also some great tips for food safety over on The Real Farmwives of America & Friends. There are 10 tips for safe food preparation, and tips on how to safely thaw meats. There are special things you should think about when having a barbecue or a pot luck – good to review in summer and for the holidays! Do you know how to tell if your meat is fully cooked? You should always use a meat thermometer – just looking at the meat can’t always tell you. And finally, so important for the holidays, some guidelines on how long you can keep leftovers.
While food poisoning is a real concern, all it takes is a little common sense in your food preparation at home to keep your family safe.