September Is National Food Safety Education Month


Have you ever had food poisoning? If you haven't, take my word for it. It ain't pleasant.

If you've experienced it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And you are also not alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans becomes sick from eating contaminated food annually.

Of those 48 million people, 128,000 have to be hospitalized. And 3,000 of them die.

Some at Higher Risk Than Others

A foodborne illness can affect anyone. But some groups of people are more likely to exhibit more serious symptoms.

They include adults 65 and older, children under 5 and pregnant women. As well as those with health issues or who take medications that weaken their body's immune system. More on this in a moment.

The CDC has designated September as National Food Safety Education Month.

The health group encourages people to take steps to help prevent food poisoning. And show others how to keep food safe for consumption.

Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill

CDC officials recommend four basic steps to keep yourself and family members safe while preparing and handling food. They are Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Clean. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds often when you cook. Also wash utensils and surfaces after each use. Wash vegetables and fruits under running water, but not meat, poultry or eggs.

Separate. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs. Separate them from cooked food and fresh produce by using different cutting boards and plates. Also, keep them separate from other food in your grocery cart and in the refrigerator.

Cook. Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills germs. Keep that food hot (140F or above) after cooking and before serving. Microwave food thoroughly (to 165F).

Chill. Refrigerate perishable foods and leftovers within two hours. Chill within one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Never thaw or marinate food on the counter. Learn when to throw food out.

Suggestions From the USDA

One of the challenges with food safety is that we usually cannot see, smell or taste harmful bacteria in food that may cause illness.

But here are six tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that can help limit the chances of suffering from food poisoning.

While shopping, put refrigerated and frozen items in your cart only after grabbing your nonperishables. Don't choose meat or poultry in packaging that's torn or leaking.

For storage, keep your fridge at 40F or below and your freezer at 0F or below. Meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to prevent meat juices from dripping onto other food.

Thawing and Refreezing

The fridge does a good job of thawing slowly and safely. If you need to thaw meat or poultry quicker, place it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook as soon as it thaws.

If you're serving food at a buffet, keep hot food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays. Keep cold food cold by placing dishes in bowls of ice.

Place leftovers in shallow containers and put them in the fridge or freezer for rapid cooling. Most leftovers should be consumed within three to four days.

It's OK to refreeze meat and poultry that's been defrosted in the fridge. But If it was thawed a different way, cook it before refreezing.

National Health Service Tips

Here are a few more suggestions. These come from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

Wash your dishcloths and towels regularly. And let them thoroughly dry before using them again. Using damp and dirty cloths is an ideal way to spread germs.

Store your covered raw meat on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. That way it won't be able to touch or drip on other foods.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but don't eat food past its use-by date. Even if it looks and smells fine. Invisible yet harmful bacteria will form over time. Check those dates often so you don't waste food.

Finally, let your friends, family members and co-workers know about National Food Safety Education Month. And the steps they can take to avoid becoming a food poisoning victim.

Revisiting High-Risk Groups

Getting back to those high-risk groups for a moment. Adults 65 and older are more at risk because their immune systems and organs don't get rid of harmful germs as effectively as they used to.

Children under 5 are more at risk because their immune systems are still developing. Food illness can lead to diarrhea and dehydration in children. They can also experience kidney failure from E. coli infections.

Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get certain infections, such as listeria.

Those with weak immune systems can't fight germs as well as others. Especially if they suffer from diabetes or liver or kidney disease. Or if they are receiving radiation or chemotherapy.

Food poisoning is no fun. And it can lead to other problems for the vulnerable among us. Make sure to take the steps you need to avoid it.

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