Medically known as food-borne illness or food-borne disease, you probably know food poisoning as miserable -- whatever it's called.
It occurs when you eat or drink something contaminated with any number of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or parasites. And it can result in diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, which can be serious if prolonged, and can lead to dehydration.
Most people rarely get sick from contaminated foods because their immune systems are strong enough to protect them. But when harmful bacteria multiply beyond safe limits due to unsafe food handling or lack of refrigeration, that's when food poisoning strikes. When the immune system is impaired by sickness, age, or other factors, food poisoning is also more likely.
Raw foods from animals, such as eggs, meat and poultry, shellfish, fish such as sushi, and unpasteurized milk, are some of the foods most likely to be contaminated. Raw fruits and vegetables are also of particular concern because washing decreases but does not eliminate contamination.
But food poisoning usually can be prevented by handling food safely. The FDA offers four simple steps for safely preparing food at home:
1. Clean and wash hands, countertops, and other surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, sponges, and countertops.
- Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and touching pets. Avoid preparing foods if you have diarrhea.
- Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
- Use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards. These boards should be run through the dishwasher -- or washed in hot soapy water -- after each use.
- Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
2. Separate and don't cross-contaminate. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
- If possible, use a different cutting board for raw meat products.
- Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.