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8 steps to keep your next meal from sending you to the E.R.

August 6, 2020 (Updated: August 1, 2021)
Lily Moran

If you’ve ever caught food poisoning, you know it’s sheer misery…nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, and dehydration that can last up to 48 hours.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in 6 Americans acquire a foodborne illness every year.

Most people recover fine at home, but nearly 130,000 end up in the hospital for fluids and medication. And sadly, about 3,000 die each year.

And yet, it’s entirely preventable.

Whether your next meal is made at-home, or picked up while on-the-go, today we look at essential ways to keep you and your food safe.

4 ways to keep you and your food safe

The CDC recommends following four simple steps to dramatically reduce your risk of foodborne illness at home:

1) Clean

Keep cooking and food prep surfaces and your hands clean.

Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20-30 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, handling pets, or touching anything that may be significantly contaminated with germs (such as door handles).

Using disposable latex gloves while cooking can add an extra layer of protection. They’re especially important if you have a cut or some other skin abrasion or infection.

Countertops and other surfaces should be cleaned with hot, soapy water or disinfectant wipes, and dried with disposable paper towels. The best place to wash and disinfect non-porous cutting boards (plastic, acrylic, etc.), dishes, and utensils is the dishwasher. Boards made of more porous material can be sanitized in bleach and water (1-2 Tbsp. bleach for every gallon of water).

2) Separate

Avoid cross-contaminating foods. Don’t reuse plates, cutting boards, or utensils that come in contact with raw meat or juices. Serve cooked food on a clean plate.

3) Cook

Make sure foods are cooked to the proper temperature. You can find safe temperatures for all foods online, but as a general rule:

  • Poultry: 165o F
  • Ground beef, pork, veal, or lamb: 160o F
  • Fresh beef/lamb (steaks), pork, ham, and fish: 145o F

After food is cooked, it should be kept hot (at least 140o F) to prevent growth of bacteria.

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If your food is to be served raw or cold, it should be kept below 40o F.

4) Chill

Foodborne illness does not just happen when you eat foods that are undercooked or contaminated. It can also happen when you consume things that weren’t stored quickly or properly.

Remember to refrigerate leftover cooked food promptly—within two hours.

4 more ways to protect yourself when eating out

According to the CDC, foodborne illness outbreaks are more likely to begin at restaurants than at home.

To say you should avoid eating out would be unrealistic…and just plain mean. Occasional meals out are a wonderful way to celebrate events, reconnect with loved ones, and have some fun.

At the same time, it’s important to be vigilant and aware. Here are 4 ways to prevent food posioning while dining out:

1) Make sure your meat is thoroughly cooked.

I love a medium-rare steak as much as the next person, but under-cooking can be dangerous. This is especially true of ground meats, like burgers and meatballs. If you see any pink or raw areas, send it back and request that it be re-plated on a clean dish. Sides should also be switched out.

2) Order with caution

If there is an outbreak of disease that is sourced back to, say, lettuce grown in California, either avoid ordering salads or ask the server where the ingredients came from.

3) Trust your gut

Of course this isn’t a surefire way to spot a dirty kitchen that could make you sick, but you may get a gut instinct to turn around and leave. And if you do, you should.

4) Do your research ahead of time

You can look online for health inspection reports of restaurants in your area. Avoid establishments that have been cited multiple times—either indefinitely, or at least until they clean things up and get back up to code.

Enjoy your meals

The best part about the recommendations above are that they’re simple, easy to remember, and portable. Have them handy the next time you prep you prep a meal or dine out to ensure you stay protected from the very real threat that is food poisoning.

Take good care.

Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Last Updated: August 6, 2020 
Originally Published: September 1, 2018

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