How to prevent food poisoning
The recent recall of half a billion eggs has everyone talking about food safety—and for good reason. About 48 million people get sick and more than 3,000 die each year from food poisoning in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
It takes more than frequent hand washing to avoid food poisoning. Here are easy-to-follow steps to protect yourself and your family, courtesy of Cheryl Luptowski, consumer safety expert with the National Sanitation Foundation:
- Disinfect counter tops: Soap and water alone won't cut it on counter tops. Soap and water are great cleaning agents, but they're not disinfecting agents. After washing counter tops with soap and hot water, disinfect them with a solution of one to three
- tablespoons of household chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Or, use a counter top cleaner on granite counter tops.
- Replace old cutting boards: Salmonella and other bacteria can get into the cracks of cutting boards and be difficult to remove. Replace cutting boards regularly.
- Avoid cross contamination: Use color-coded cutting boards and utensils. For example, use a red cutting board for raw meat, green for veggies and blue for fish. It's also a great way to teach kids about food safety. This doesn't mean you have to buy all new cookware: Put a dab of nontoxic paint on the ends of knives used to cut veggies, meats and poultry, and fish.
- Thaw in the refrigerator: Do not thaw foods at room temperature, and don't refreeze foods once they have been completely thawed.
- Store bottled water in the food pantry: Don't store bottled water in your garage or near your cleaning products. Gasoline and any products that have a vapor—such as oven cleaner and paints—can penetrate plastic water bottles that are slightly permeable.
At the grocery store
- Buy whole head lettuce: Bagged, pre-washed lettuce is tempting and convenient, but it can also be a breeding ground for bacteria. Food experts agree it is safer to buy a whole head of lettuce—and it's cheaper too. Washing the lettuce yourself means it's less likely to be contaminated.
- Buy pasteurized eggs: Pasteurized eggs are preheated to kill bacteria and viruses inside the shell. They cost more than regular eggs and come with a "P" stamped on the carton. If you're eating out, you probably won't be served pasteurized eggs. Ask for eggs cooked well done instead of over easy. This will reduce your risk of salmonella.
- Check expiration dates: Some supermarkets discount food items close to their expiration dates to move perishable foods off the shelves. While this is certainly a money saver, it can be dangerous if you do not use the food right away. If you can't use the food before the expiration date, freeze it.
Have a question about food safety? Call the National Sanitation Foundation Consumer Safety hotline at 800-673-8010 or call the FDA's Safe Food Information line at 888-SAFE-FOOD.