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Nothing can ruin the Thanksgiving holiday more than a bout of food poisoning. Because the health of everyone eating a meal depends on the actions of the cook, sloppy food preparation can result in a serious medical problem – twenty-five Americans will die today–and another 16,000 will become ill–from something they ate.
While the cause of some food borne illnesses is never found, more than 95% of diagnosable food poisonings can be traced to eating food that contains large numbers of tiny microorganisms called bacteria. Children are probably more susceptible to these agents for a variety of reasons, including lack of immunity and poor hygiene.
Like other living things, bacteria need food (they prefer dairy products, egg products, meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish), warmth, water to grow (a moist environment), and time to multiply (under ideal conditions, one bacterium can duplicate itself 2,097,152 times in seven hours.)
Only 3% of reported cases of food poisonings are caused by manufacturing errors. That means that most food borne illness comes from our own kitchen and restaurants.
Parents can think of food poisoning as a chain of events: there must be bacteria on the food, the microorganisms must have the right conditions to grow (warmth and moisture) and they must have the time to multiply.The Partnership for Food Safety Education has listed four steps to help break this chain of events and prevent food poisoning:
Keep Foods Clean
- Discourage anyone with an infectious disease from handling, preparing, or serving food.
- Work with clean hands, clean hair, clean fingernails, and wear clean clothing.
- Wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet, assisting anyone using the toilet, or changing diapers.
- Handle raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs as if they were contaminated. Even if they don’t start out with enough bacteria to make you sick, mishandling them could get you and your family in trouble. Wash hands with soap and water after touching raw meat, poultry, sea foods or eggs, before working with other food.
- Avoid using hands to mix foods when clean utensils can be used.
- Keep hands away from your mouth, nose, and hair.
- Avoid using the same spoon more than once for tasting food while preparing, cooking, or serving.
- Thoroughly clean all dishes, utensils, and work surfaces with soap and water after each use
- Thinking of becoming a vegetarian to avoid food poisoning? Think again. Food poisoning bacteria are also found in vegetables and fruits. Advice: wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly – even the part you will peel away
- Microwave your sponges on high for 30 to 60 seconds. That will keep them clean
Keep Food Separate
- Keep raw meat, eggs, poultry, or seafood and their juices away from ready to eat foods.
- Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.
- Use a different cutting board for fruits and vegetables.
Cook Food Adequately
- Cook all meat and poultry using a meat thermometer to insure proper temperature.
- Keep hot foods HOT (above 140 degrees F) and cold foods COLD (below 40 degrees F). Food may become unsafe if held for more than 2-3 hours at 60-125 degrees F, the zone where bacteria grow rapidly.
- Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm.
- Bad news for rare meat lovers: When cooking burgers, the center of patties and meat loaf should not be pink and the juices should run clear.
- Cook fish until it is opaque and flakes easily.
- Make sure leftovers are steaming hot before serving
- Never eat shellfish like oysters, clams, or mussels, unless they’ve been thoroughly cooked.
- Stuff raw poultry just before cooking it. Better yet, cook your poultry and stuffing separately.
Chill food Properly
- Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food, and leftovers within two hours.
- The colder food is kept, the less chance bacteria have to grow. Use a thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is giving you good protection against bacterial growth. The refrigerator should register 40 degrees F or lower.
- Do not defrost food or marinate on the counter. Juices drip and bacterial multiply faster at room temperature. Defrost food and marinate in the refrigerator instead (and do not taste your food with the uncooked marinade unless you’ve cooked it). If microwave defrosting, cook food immediately.
- Keep uncooked ground meat and poultry in the refrigerator and cook or freeze within one or two days. Use or freeze meat and poultry stored in the refrigerator within three to four days.
It used to be that parents worried whether their dinner was going to taste good. Now they are wondering whether their dinner is going to be safe. Just like the security of everyone in the car depends on the performance of the driver, the health of everyone eating a meal depends on the actions of the parent or grandparent in the kitchen!