Whether you own a restaurant business or are a home chef, one of your main concerns is avoiding food borne illnesses. Slight rumbling in the stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may all seem like symptoms of the flu but could, in reality, be caused by food borne illnesses instead. Thankfully, there are many simple solutions to foodborne illness prevention as recommended by the USDA and the World Health Organization. Check out some easy ways to prevent food borne illnesses:
1. Always wash your hands
Good personal hygiene is the key to foodborne illness prevention. If you want to avoid dangerous symptoms of diarrhea, then you must pay special attention to personal hygiene. Here are some easy tips to follow:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling or preparing food. Use hot water and an antibacterial soap for the purpose. Most hand-wash gels and soaps help prevent bacterial and fungi foodborne illness.
- You could also carry hand sanitizers which work without water.
- Wash your hands under running water for at least 30-45 seconds.
- Wear gloves as far as possible when handling food. Gloves are especially necessary if you have cuts, scrapes, burns or wounds on your hand. Properly bandage these cuts or wounds before cooking.
- Avoid handling food when you have diarrhea.
- Make sure you wash your hands after going to the toilet, handling trash, changing baby’s diaper etc.
2. Cook food thoroughly
- Avoid eating raw salads , sprouts or raw sea food, especially if you are unaware of their sources.
- Cook food like raw meat, thoroughly before serving.
- Do not eat raw eggs, rare steaks and undercooked poultry or fish.
- Cook eggs until the whites and yolks are firm.
- Insert a thermometer to ensure that the meat has reached proper temperature internally.
- In case of sea food like oysters and shell fish etc, cook them until the shells open.
- Cook sausages, hot dogs and burger meats until they are approximately 160 degrees F inside or sizzling hot.
- You must also cook foods containing eggs to 160 F.
- Boil stews and soups to at least 70 degrees C.
3. Handle leftovers properly
- Spoilt leftovers are common causes of foodborne illness.
- Always promptly refrigerate leftovers and cook them to 165 degrees before serving.
- Educate young children about food safety and dangers of spoilt leftovers.
- If food is giving off a stale odor, discard it immediately.
4. Maintain kitchen hygiene
One of the factors that are the biggest cause of foodborne illnesses is cross contamination through use of dirty kitchen gadgets. Here are some USDA foodborne illness prevention tips for secondary prevention of foodborne illness:
- Always clean your cutting boards, forks, knives, kitchen surfaces and other equipment before use. It is good idea to toss them in the dishwasher and use bleach or dishwashing soap that kills bacteria and fungi. You can also soak these gadgets in vinegar or rub lemon slices on them. Then wash them as usual. This will deodorize the gadgets and also eliminate germs. You can also use baking soda to clean stains and get rid of odors.
- Wash all kitchen tools used for cutting raw foods like poultry, meat, and eggs etc.
- Before and after food preparation, clean the kitchen counters and surfaces with bleach, antibacterial and antifungal soap and hot water. You can also spray vinegar and/or essential oils to clean the counter tops etc.
- Use disposable paper towels or clean dry cloth pieces to dry food preparation surfaces. Wash these re-usable cleaning cloth rags from time to time. You can simply toss them in the washer and wash them on hottest setting.
5. Store food properly
In order to prevent foodborne illness at home, store food at the right temperature.
- Always refrigerate milk, yogurt and cooked food within 2 hours of cooking.
- Discard leftovers after 2 days even if they have been refrigerated.
- Keep cold food below 40 F and hot food about 140 F.
- Never cook food way in advance especially if you do not have proper means of storage.
- Store all perishable food items at or below 40F.
- Ensure that your refrigerator temperature is between 35 F and 40 F.
- Separate cooked and raw foods-avoid keeping food in contact with raw meat, eggs etc.
- Use separate containers and tools for storing/cooking and cutting raw and cooked foods.
- Always store food (cooked or raw) in good quality containers or storage bags.
- On picnics, take foods that will last. If possible, keep food fresh in cool boxes.
- Never thaw frozen food at room temperature. Thawing is best done in refrigerator, under running water or in microwave.
6. Know where your food is coming from
When traveling, especially in economically backward countries, avoid eating at roadside places. Always know the source of your food.
- Food should be piping hot –more than 60 degrees C, when it is served.
- Only drink pasteurized fruit juices and milk. Juices should be clear and not cloudy or pink.
- Avoid cartons that are puffed or ones where the seal appears broken.
- When you are not sure of their source, avoid raw salads, sprouts and alfalfa.
- Always drink fresh or bottled water.
- Use fresh, clean water for cooking and cleaning cooking surfaces and for washing raw produce etc. This is an essential aspect of preventing foodborne illness.
- Never serve uncooked sea food, soft unpasteurized cheeses or raw salads from unsure sources to young children, elderly patients and pregnant ladies.
- Do not serve hot dogs, deli meats etc without cooking them first until they are sizzling hot. Ensure that the internal temperature is at least 160 F.
- Use cheese and dairy products only from pasteurized milk.
- Never eat raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs. You can always substitute pasteurized eggs or egg products in uncooked foods containing eggs.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with vinegar and baking soda before consumption.
- Never eat foods past their expiration date.
7. Educate and spread awareness
Teach children and communities about the dangers of food borne illnesses, how they spread and ways to prevent them. The good news is that primary and secondary prevention for foodborne illness is easy and can help prevent them. The WHO and USDA foodborne illness prevention guidelines above explain safe food handling and best preparation practices.
Food borne diseases are not just a problem in developing nations but in developed countries as well. They put a strain on health care systems and also impact economy adversely. Foodborne illnesses can severely harm young children, elderly patients and people with weak immunity. They also tend to create a vicious cycle of malnutrition. We hope the above steps and easy ways to prevent food borne illnesses help you stop the cycle.