By Amber MS, RDN, LDN
Healthy eating is more than simply consuming a balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods. It also includes food safety and making sure you’re practicing safe cooking, storage, and food handling techniques.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that each year:
- 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses
- 128,000 are hospitalized
- 3,000 die
Foodborne illnesses can affect anyone, making it a crucial topic to understand its causes, symptoms, who is at higher risk, and ways to prevent food contamination. It’s also important to understand what the use-by, sell-by, and best-by dates mean in order to get the best quality nutrients and taste, while also being able to decrease food waste.
So, What Is a Foodborne Illness?
A foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is defined as an illness caused by food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, toxins, or parasites. Symptoms may be different, depending on the different contaminators and foodborne illnesses, but the most common symptoms include:
- Stomach Cramps
Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, some individuals are at higher risk, such as pregnant women, children less than 5 years old, adults aged 65 or older, and those with a weakened immune system. Foodborne illnesses are caused by failing to cook food correctly, holding food at incorrect temperatures, using contaminated equipment, practicing poor personal hygiene, or poor cleaning and sanitation practices.
Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, can be prevented by using safe food handling, storage, and cooking practices.
How to Prevent Foodborn Illnesses
Follow these simple tips to help prevent foodborne illnesses for both you and your families:
- Wash and sanitize kitchen surfaces, utensils, and hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before, during, and after preparing food.
- Important times to wash hands to reduce spreading germs include:
- After blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or caring for someone who is sick
- After handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry, or fish and their juices.
- After touching the garbage, using the bathroom, or touching pets/pet food.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from produce and ready to eat foods. Utilize separate cutting boards or plates when preparing meals to reduce cross-contamination.
- Separate these foods in your shopping cart and refrigerator.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs in the bottom of your fridge to ensure produce and other ready-to-eat foods don’t get contaminated by dripping or spilling.
- Put raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood in separate containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent the juices from dripping onto produce and other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook food thoroughly to the proper internal temperature to kill bacteria or germs that may cause contamination.
- Use a food thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
Below are internal temperatures to ensure food safety:
- 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb
- 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
- 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
- 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
- 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
- 145°F for fish or cook until flesh is opaque
More Food Safety Tips:
- Avoid food falling into the danger zone of 40-140 degrees because bacteria can grow very fast within these temperatures.
- After food is cooked, keep hot food hot (above 140 degrees) and cold food cold (at or below 40 degrees).
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers or any perishable foods within 2 hours of cooking.
- Your fridge temperature should be set at or below 40°F and the freezer at or below 0°F.
- Thaw frozen food in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave.
Understanding Sell-By, Best-By, and Use-By Dates
Now that we know how to prevent foodborne illnesses, or food poisoning, it’s equally important to understand the sell-by, best-by, and use-by dates located on your food products. This will ensure food safety and help you utilize the best quality nutrients from food while decreasing unnecessary food waste.
The sell-by date is a message for the retailer to inform them when the product should be sold or taken off the shelf for inventory management. If it is after this date, it does not mean the food item is unsafe to consume at home.
The best-by date is a suggestion to the consumer on which date to consume the product for the best quality nutrients and taste. If you consume the food after the best-by date, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get sick from it.
The use-by date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while still getting a high-quality food item. This date is selected by the manufacturer, packer, or distributer and is not a safety date.
Foodborne illnesses are very prominent in the United States, causing millions to get sick each year. This emphasizes the importance of food safety. Knowing if you’re at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses, along with being aware of the symptoms, causes, and ways to practice food safety and prevent food contamination will help you limit your exposure and risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Understanding the meaning behind the sell-by, best-by, and use-by date located on the product will help reduce food waste, risk of becoming sick, and help you consume products when they taste the best and are of the highest quality. Remember, foodborne illnesses can be prevented by practicing food safety when preparing, cooking, and storing food.
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