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Any food can be contaminated with bacteria from unclean surfaces, food handlers who don't wash their hands, or improper preparation.

May 22, 2000 -- Any food can be contaminated with bacteria from unclean surfaces, food handlers who don't wash their hands, or improper preparation. Food items in the following four categories are the ones most likely to make you and your family sick.

  • Ground meats: Hamburger and ground meats of all kinds are very susceptible to bacterial contamination. One of the worst culprits is the E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria, which can produce a deadly toxin. To prevent infection, cook all hamburger thoroughly to a temperature of 160 degrees. The center should never be pink. Don't use the same plate for raw hamburgers and cooked ones. Don't let the juices from raw meat drip onto prepared foods while shopping or in the refrigerator. Always wash hands, surfaces, and utensils with hot soapy water after they are in contact with raw meat.
  • Chicken and turkey: Raw or undercooked poultry can be contaminated with Campylobacter or Salmonella, both common causes of food-transmitted infections. Wash hands, preparation surfaces, and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw poultry. Don't let raw poultry juices drip onto prepared foods while shopping or in the refrigerator.

    Cook all poultry products thoroughly to a temperature of 180 degrees in the thigh and 170 degrees in the breast. If you don't have a thermometer, make sure there is no pink left inside and the juices run clear. Warm temperatures allow Salmonella bacteria to grow, so always serve poultry hot and refrigerate leftovers promptly.

  • Eggs: Salmonella can also be transmitted by eggs. The best way to protect yourself from Salmonella is to cook your eggs thoroughly. Keep eggs refrigerated, discard cracked or dirty eggs, and eat eggs promptly after cooking. Only eat foods that contain raw eggs, such as eggnog or Caesar salads, if pasteurized eggs are used. Refrigerate leftover egg dishes and anything containing mayonnaise immediately. Wash hands and cooking utensils with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
  • Fresh Produce: Always wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly. They may have been contaminated with Salmonella or E. coli 0157:H7 by the many people who handle them between the farm and your kitchen. Even if you plan to peel or cook fruits or vegetables, it's a good idea to wash them as soon as you bring them home from the market.

Sue Licher is a freelance writer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she lives with her husband Mark and whichever of their kids happens to be back in the nest for the moment. She has written about health, energy conservation, business marketing, and other subjects for a variety of publications, television programs, and web sites.

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