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Preventing Food-borne Illness

Simple steps, both at home and when eating out, can lower your risk of food-borne illness.

"Being careful of cross-contamination in the kitchen is one of the most important elements," Painter says.

For instance, slicing chicken on a cutting board, then using it to prepare a salad, raises infection risk.

Wash hands often, especially when preparing food, to cut down the risk of transmitting norovirus, Painter says.

Don Schaffner, PhD, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the report, recommends that people wash raw food. "If you are buying your own produce, such as head lettuce, you want to wash it properly in your kitchen," he says.

However, if you buy the packaged, triple-washed products, he recommends against washing it again. The risk of contamination in your kitchen has been found to outweigh the risk of triple-washed lettuce making you sick.

Home cooks just getting over a bout of vomiting and diarrhea should not be handling food, Schaffner says.

When eating out, if you notice employees not washing their hands, report that to the manager or your local health department, Painter says. If many people get sick eating out after having the same meal, call the county health department.

"It's those outbreaks that are the basis of outbreak reports," he says.

Schaffner reports serving as a consultant to the food industry and for companies making hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps.

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