Each year, about 76 million people get sick, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die from foodborne illness. Ensuring food is safe to eat is a critical part of healthy eating, according to the newly released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and ConAgra Foods public awareness campaign Home Food Safety supports the Dietary Guidelines’ emphasis on the importance of food safety and the role each individual plays in keeping foodborne illness out of our homes.
"The staggering number of cases of foodborne illness underscores the need for further exploration of our four simple tips," said registered dietitian and ADA Spokesperson Ruth Frechman.
Home Food Safety educates consumers about how foodborne illness in the home is a serious health issue, and provides simple solutions and tips so Americans can easily and safely handle food in their own kitchens. Aligned with the four basic food safety principles recommended by the Dietary Guidelines — Clean, separate, cook and chill — the following tips from Home Food Safety can reduce the risk of foodborne illness:
1. Wash hands often.
2. Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate.
3. Cook to proper temperatures.
4. Refrigerate promptly to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
CLEAN: Wash Hands Often
ADA and ConAgra Foods Home Food Safety program stresses the importance of proper hand washing to eliminate cases of foodborne illness and significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing food — especially after handling raw seafood, meat, poultry or eggs — and before eating. Hand washing is also important after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, coughing or sneezing, tending to someone who is sick or injured, touching animals or handling garbage.
Besides the importance of washing hands, the Dietary Guidelines reminds consumers that all kitchen surfaces (including appliances, refrigerators and freezers), all produce (even if you plan to peel and cut before eating) and even reusable grocery bags and lunchboxes need to be washed thoroughly. For example, the insides of microwaves often become soiled with food, allowing bacteria to grow. Washing the inside and outside, including handles and buttons, can prevent foodborne illness.
SEPARATE: Keep Raw Meats and Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate
When juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods (such as fruits or salads), cross-contamination occurs. Remember to always use separate clean cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and another for ready-to-eat foods. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.
The Dietary Guidelines reiterates the importance of keeping foods separate before, during and after preparation. Always place raw fish, seafood, meat and poultry in plastic bags. Keep them separate from other foods in your grocery cart and bags and store raw fish, seafood, meat, and poultry on a shelf below the ready-to-eat foods in your refrigerator.
COOK: Cook to Proper Temperatures
Fish, seafood, meat, poultry and egg dishes should be cooked to the recommended minimum internal temperature to destroy any potentially harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to ensure food is safely cooked and kept at safe temperatures until eaten. For packaged foods, follow cooking instructions carefully, and clean food thermometers with hot, soapy water before and after each use.
ADA and ConAgra Foods applaud the Dietary Guidelines for stressing how cooking temperatures also apply to microwave cooking. A microwave can cook unevenly and leave cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive. According to the Dietary Guidelines, When cooking using a microwave, foods should be stirred, rotated and/or flipped periodically to help them cook evenly. Microwave cooking instructions on food packages always should be followed.
CHILL: Refrigerate Promptly to 40 Degrees Fahrenheit or Below
The Home Food Safety program reminds consumers to refrigerate foods quickly and at a proper temperature to slow the growth of bacteria and prevent foodborne illness. Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below, and always use a refrigerator and freezer thermometers to monitor these temperatures.
The Dietary Guidelines also reiterates that perishable foods are no longer safe to eat when they have been in the danger zone of 40-140°F for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature was above 90°F). When shopping, the two-hour window includes the amount of time food is in the grocery basket, car and on the kitchen counter."
Guidelines for At-Risk Populations
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines stress the Home Food Safety program’s message for many years about how higher-risk populations like pregnant women, very young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems or certain chronic illnesses can be at far greater risk of developing serious illness if contracting food poisoning. Once contracted, these infections can be difficult to treat, can reoccur and can even be fatal for these individuals," Frechman said.
According to the Dietary Guidelines, at-risk individuals need to take special precautions not to consume unpasteurized (raw) juice or milk, or foods made from unpasteurized milk, like some soft cheeses such as Feta and queso blanco. Additionally, raw sprouts can carry harmful bacteria and should be avoided. The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that consumers reheat deli and luncheon meats, and hot dogs should be reheated to steaming hot in order to kill Listeria—the bacteria that causes listeriosis.
Foodborne illness is a serious issue for Americans. Fortunately, simple steps like those found on homefoodsafety.org can significantly reduce this risk and help keep families healthy and safe," said Joan Menke-Schaenzer, Chief Global Quality Officer for ConAgra Foods.
A downloadable chart of safe minimum internal temperatures of foods and more information on preventing foodborne illness can be found at homefoodsafety.org.