Food poisoning, also called food-borne illness, is a common, distressing, and sometimes life-threatening problem. People infected with food-borne organisms may have no symptoms or may have symptoms ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to severe dehydration and bloody diarrhea.
Depending on the type of infection, people can even die as a result of food poisoning. That is why it is very important to take steps to prevent food poisoning. Follow these general guidelines to avoid contracting a food-borne illness.
General Guidelines to Prevent Food Poisoning
- Make sure that food from animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs) is cooked thoroughly or pasteurized. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food.
- Avoid eating raw or spoiled meats and eggs. Check expiration dates on meats and eggs before purchasing and again before preparing.
- Carefully select and prepare fish and shellfish to ensure quality and freshness.
- If you are served an undercooked meat or egg product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You should also ask for a new plate.
- Be careful that you don't let juices or drippings from raw meat, poultry, shellfish, or eggs contaminate other foods.
- Do not leave eggs, meats, poultry, seafood, or milk for extended periods of time at room temperature. Promptly refrigerate leftovers and food prepared in advance.
- Wash your hands, cutting boards, and knives with antibacterial soap and warm to hot water after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. Wooden cutting boards are not recommended, because they can be harder to clean.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
- Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Thaw foods in the refrigerator and use them promptly. Do not refreeze foods once they have been completely thawed.
- Keep the refrigerator at 40 degrees Farenheit or lower, and the freezer at 0 degrees Farenheit or lower.
- Wash raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating, especially those that will not be cooked. Avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated.
- Drink only pasteurized juice or cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf life that is sold at room temperature (juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed juice in glass containers) has been pasteurized, although this is generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated sufficiently to kill bacteria.
- Be aware of proper home-canning procedures. Instructions on safe home-canning can be obtained from county extension services or from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- If you are ill with diarrhea or vomiting, do not prepare food for others, especially infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, because they are more vulnerable to infection.
- Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, turtles, birds, or after contact with human or pet feces.
- Breastfeed your baby if possible. Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding may prevent many food-borne illnesses and other health problems.
- Those at high risk, such as pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and the elderly should also:
- Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. (Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are safe.)
- Cook foods until they are steaming hot, especially leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs.
- Although the risk of food-borne disease associated with foods from deli counters is relatively low, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems may choose to avoid these foods or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before eating.