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Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling - Prevention

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning by being careful when you prepare and store food. Wash your hands and working surfaces while preparing food, cook foods to safe temperatures, and refrigerate foods promptly. Be especially careful when you cook or heat perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products. Also take extra care if you are pregnant, have an impaired immune system, or are preparing foods for children or older people.

The following steps can help prevent food poisoning (adapted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

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  • Shop safelyShop safely. Bag raw meat, poultry, and fish separately from other food items. Young children can get sick from touching packaged poultry, so don't allow them to touch or play with packages of poultry in your grocery cart.
  • Prepare foods safelyPrepare foods safely. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Wash fruits, vegetables, and cutting boards. Follow procedures for safe home canning to avoid contamination.
  • Store foods safelyStore foods safely. Cook, refrigerate, or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and ready-to-eat foods within 2 hours. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F (4°C) or colder.
  • Cook foods safelyCook foods safely. Use a clean meat thermometer to make sure that foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F (74°C). Don't eat undercooked hamburger. And be aware of the risk of food poisoning from raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters.
  • Serve foods safelyServe foods safely. Keep cooked hot foods hot [140°F (60°C) or above] and cold foods cold [40°F (4°C) or below].
  • Follow labels on food packagingFollow labels on food packaging. These labels provide information about when to use the food and how to store it.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you aren't sure if a food is safe, don't eat it. Reheating food that is contaminated won't make it safe. Don't taste suspicious food. It may smell and look fine but still may not be safe to eat.
  • Make smart restaurant choices.
    • Note the general cleanliness of the facility and staff. If you aren't confident that conditions are sanitary, leave.
    • Restaurants are inspected by the local health department for cleanliness and proper kitchen procedures. Find out the inspection scores of selected restaurants. (They are sometimes posted in the restaurant.)
    • Find out if food safety training is regularly provided for staff.

Many counties in the United States have extension services listed in the phone book. These services can answer your questions about safe home canning and food preparation.

To learn more, see Symptoms for a list of specific organisms.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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