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Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning: 15 Tips

Updated on August 15, 2013
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Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

salmonella invading human cells
salmonella invading human cells

Is Your Food Safe?

Wracked with severe body aches and abdominal cramps, my temperature soared. I vomited so frequently that I quickly became dehydrated. Far from medical facilities and desperate, I had to be injected with an antiemetic medication. Relief at last! After a course of antibiotics and a week's bed rest I finally recovered from my terrible bout with Salmonella, one of many species of bacteria that cause food poisoning. However, other victims are not so fortunate. Was my case an isolated incident?

In 2011, an outbreak of E. coli linked to contaminated vegetables killed 23 people and sent over 2,000 to hospitals in Germany and Sweden. Not long afterward, an E. coli outbreak in the United States caused several deaths, including the death of a 20-month-old child in Wisconsin after the patient developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe complication of E. coli which can lead to kidney failure. Ten percent of these patients survive with long-term kidney damage which eventually may lead to dialysis or transplant. According to the CDC, there were 33 million cases of food-borne disease, or food poisoning, and more than 9,000 deaths caused by it in 2011.

Clearly, food safety is an issue which concerns us all. How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones? In theory, food poisoning is 100% preventable. Fifteen simple precautions may save your life:


1. Shop for non-perishable items first. Purchase hot prepared food, frozen food or raw meat just before returning home.

2. Purchase fresh food when possible. If you shop at an open air market, choose fresh fruits and vegetables which are undamaged with intact skins. Openings in peels and rinds can allow entry of dangerous bacteria. Purchase meat slaughtered that day and make sure it is free of strange odors. If shopping in a supermarket, purchase foods with undamaged packaging. Check expiration dates and don’t buy any food that has expired, even if it looks or tastes fine. It can still make you sick.

3. Regularly wash out reusable shopping bags with soap and hot water. Carry raw meat and fish in separate bags so as not to contaminate other food. If it will take longer than 30 minutes to arrive home, put chilled or frozen foods in an insulated bag or find some other way to keep them cool.


4. Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching food and after using the toilet.

5. Keep your kitchen clean. Change dishcloths frequently and use hot soapy water or disinfectant to clean kitchen surfaces. Even if you are living in a poor country, there is no reason to skimp on soap and water.

6. Rinse produce: Use running tap water and a soft brush to scrub away dirt and grime from potatoes and other vegetables or fruits, even if you are going to peel it. Remove and discard the outermost leaves of lettuce or cabbage. Fill a sink or tub with water and vinegar or a commercial washing solution (see Amazon capsule below) and soak produce for several minutes to remove traces of pesticide and bacteria.

7. Prevent cross-contamination by separately wrapping and storing all raw meat, poultry and seafood.


Prepare & Store

8. Avoid preparing food for others if you have a diarrheal illness.

9. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Wash hands, utensils and cutting boards that have come in contact with raw meat before they touch other food.

10. Do not thaw meat at room temperature. Instead, thaw food in the refrigerator, microwave or submerged in cold water in a package that will not leak.

11. Cook food thoroughly. Be sure food reaches a temperature of at least 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 70 degrees Celsius. Use a meat thermometer if unsure.

12. Avoid foods that contain raw milk or eggs. Heat raw milk to 161 Fahrenheit or 72 Celsius for 20 seconds to kill dangerous bacteria such as Brucella or Listeria.

13. Serve soon. Cooked food should not be left at room temperature for too long. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

14. Refrigerator leftover foods that will not be eaten within 4 hours.

15. Do not store leftovers in the refrigerator for more than 3 or 4 days.

Why Purchase a Vegetable Wash?

Washes such as Fit and Environne are said to kill 99.9% of harmful bacteria and remove 98% more pesticides than just rinsing under cold, running water. The washes also remove waxes and oils and leave no aftertaste.

I highly recommend Citrus Magic, which most closely resembles the product I use here in Peru. It is 100% natural and highly concentrated, so it lasts longer than the other washes. For more than just cleaning produce, Citrus Magic can also be used to disinfect dishcloths and kitchen surfaces.

Good health to you!


Which of these precautions do you take?

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