E. coli outbreaks in Europe. Salmonella scares in the United States. There is no lack of news these days regarding foodborne illnesses that kill and sicken millions. What’s a health-conscious consumer to do to avoid being among the one in six people who gets sick each year in the United States from eating contaminated food? Wash your hands. Wash your produce. And skip the raw bean sprouts. Here are more ways to ward off food poisoning and stay healthy.
1. Wash produce
Harmful bacteria can lurk in the water or soil used to grow fruits and vegetables, or produce may be contaminated during handling and storage. So it’s important to wash produce under running water just prior to eating, cutting, or cooking. But do it with clean hands — wash them for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before handling that lettuce, the Food and Drug Administration advises. If you plan to peel produce, washing it first is still advised.
However, it’s not enough to simply wash raw bean sprouts before eating them. They are grown in humid conditions that are ideal for growth of bacteria, including dangerous salmonella, listeria, and E.coli, so cook them thoroughly before consuming them to reduce contamination risk.
2. Avoid pesticide overload
While health experts say the benefits of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure, the Environmental Working Group recently released its “Dirty Dozen” list in an attempt to help consumers reduce their exposure. Apples top this year’s list of worst pesticide-laden produce, with celery, last year’s chief offender, bumping to second.
In addition to its “Dirty Dozen” rundown, the public health advocacy group names a “Clean 15” list of the cleanest produce, topped by onions. To read both lists, Go Here Now
Editor’s Note: 3 Secrets to Never Get Sick Again. Get Super Immunity for Only $4.95. Click here.
3. Cook carefully
Some foods, like undercooked meat, can harbor bacteria spread by food handlers and through other sources. That’s why cooking meat to recommended temperatures is critical in preventing foodborne illnesses. Because salmonella bacteria are most prevalent in poultry, it should be cooked to a high internal temperature of 165 F, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises.
The processing of ground beef mixes in bacteria from its surface, so it also has to be cooked to a higher temperature, at 160 F. Other meats, including beef, veal, lamb — and now pork —should be done to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F. (The USDA recently announced that the previous recommendation of cooking pork to 160 F was “overkill.”) Allow the meat to sit for at least three minutes as the higher external temperature kills off any surface bacteria.
4. Strike salmonella
In addition to poultry, eggs are another prime carrier of salmonella, which causes more deaths and hospitalizations than any other food germ, sickening more than 1 million people a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The bacteria can live inside intact grade-A eggs, so experts advise against eating lightly cooked or raw eggs. Thoroughly cook those runny whites and yolks to reduce your risk. Indeed, the CDC reports that undercooked eggs have caused salmonella infection outbreaks.
5. Keep foods separate
Cross-contamination is a big food safety concern, especially now that outdoor grilling season is here. Avoid any risk by keeping raw meats separate from those foods that are ready to eat, the American Dietetic Association says. Also, use separate plates and utensils for handling raw meats. When basting or marinating meats, use separate brushes for raw meats, and always boil any leftover marinade before using it on meats that already have been cooked.
6. Don’t let food spoil
Keeping food at an unsafe temperature is a prime reason for foodborne illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. Perishable food should be refrigerated within two hours. (Make that within one hour if the temperature is 90 F or higher.) Periodically check your refrigerator to make sure its temperature is at 40 F or below. Be sure to freeze or cook fresh ground meats and variety meats, as well as fresh poultry and fish within two days. Other beef, pork, lamb, and veal can wait three to five days.
7. Cool it
If you’re traveling with food that normally would be refrigerated, keep it packed in coolers with lots of ice to ensure temperature is below 40 F. (A refrigerator thermometer in your cooler can tell you for sure.) Skip the hot trunk and put food in the air-conditioned back seat of your car.
If you’re picnicking, watch how long perishable food is out of refrigeration. Usually, the time limit is two hours, but in heat of 90 F or higher, the safe time is cut to one hour, the American Dietetic Association says. Set your cell phone alarm to remind you when time is up.
8. Thaw safely
Thawing meat in the refrigerator is the ideal method, food safety experts say, although it takes some planning ahead because of the time required. (Allow 24 hours for every five pounds of weight, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises.) Cold water thawing works safely, too, and is faster than the refrigerator. The best way to do it is to submerge wrapped or bagged meats for 30 minutes, changing water every half hour. (Holes in packaging can allow bacteria to be introduced so be careful.) The microwave works, also, but cook meat immediately after thawing since parts of it may have already started to cook and that higher meat temperature can encourage bacterial growth.
Note: Some food experts are touting short hot-water baths they say thaw meat so quickly that bacteria doesn’t have time to grow. However, the method has not yet been recommended by food safety officials.