Food poisoning can be unpleasant and even deadly. Avoiding food poisoning requires vigilance and following food safety recommendations. While it is not possible to control every eating environment, it is important to reduce the risk by knowing some facts (as opposed to myths) about food poisoning and food preparation.
The Real Danger
Millions of Americans get sick from contaminated food each year. In fact, the odds are one in six Americans will become ill in a given year from contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 48 million afflicted, roughly 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, the CDC reports.
Food poisoning can involve an upset stomach, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and sometimes dehydration. Symptoms range from very mild to severe. For example, the outbreak of Listeria traced to cantaloupes in 2013 made 146 people sick and led to at least 30 deaths, according to the CDC.
Here are some common misconceptions and myths about food safety:
- Many people believe if you cook eggs, they are safe to eat. However, that depends on how thoroughly they are prepared. Sunny side up, soft boiled or other methods of preparation that do not completely cook the yolk do not always get rid of any harmful bacteria.
- People do not always wash produce that has a peel thinking they will not eat the peels anyway. However, washing is always a good idea and, if the item is going to be cut, it must be washed. If not, any bacteria on the peel will get inside when you slice the fruit or vegetable. This is what happened with the cantaloupes. Produce labeled as prewashed, like salad packages, is considered to be safe without rewashing.
- Hands needs to be washed prior to preparing food for at least 20 seconds with soap and running warm water. They should be rewashed after handling raw meat, eggs or any ingredient that could possibly spread germs. For example, handling chicken then the saltshaker can leave contamination on the saltshaker. Besides hands, any utensils, cutting boards, and serving plates need to be washed after being used for uncooked meats before being used again.
- Some believe that professional cooks know more about food safety than they do, so purchasing prepared foods or take out is better than cooking yourself. The reality is that people are twice as likely to get food poisoning from a restaurant than in their home. Knowing proper food safety procedures does not mean restaurant staffs are using them consistently.
- One myth is that cooking food kills the bacteria, so you don’t need to worry once it is “done.” Actually, the possibility of bacterial growth can increase after cooking, because the subsequent drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. This is why it is recommended to serve many foods warm or right from the oven. In addition, foods left out for too long can become bacterial breeding grounds.
- Likewise, thawing meat or seafood or marinating them should never be done on the kitchen counter. Always marinate in the refrigerator and thaw in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave.
- Lastly, many assume leftovers are safe to eat, unless they smell bad. The reality is that not all bacteria that causes food poisoning will affect how the food looks, tastes or smells. Leftovers stored properly are fine if used in a reasonable amount of time. There are charts available online to show safe storage times.
Getting More Information
Some 82 percent of Americans claim to be confident they prepare food safely, but studies show otherwise. Information can help protect them and their families. The federal government maintains a food safety Web site that serves as a resource on food poisoning issues. It lists the latest recalls, outbreaks and alerts. But, beyond that, the site includes information on things like how long food can be stored, the impact on different foods from a power outage, as well as preparation tips. To keep safe, keep current on the facts about food poisoning versus the myths.
By Dyanne Weiss