Foodborne illness: a disease carried or transmitted to people by food
Foodborne-illness outbreak: an incident in which two or more people experience the same illness after eating the same food
The increase in foodborne illnesses and foodborne-illness outbreaks has caused many consumers to become more concerned about the quality of the food they are purchasing and eating. Consumers expect their food to be safe, as farms, food processors and manufacturers, and eating establishments are required to undergo rigorous inspections by health inspectors on a regular basis. Unfortunately, despite these health inspections, millions of people are still affected by foodborne illness every year.
As a result, President Obama recently signed into law the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The goal of the FSMA is to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing contamination, and in turn puts into place more comprehensive preventive controls for both human and animal food facilities.
How does food become unsafe in the first place? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the following factors as those normally responsible for foodborne illness:
- Failure to cook food adequately to the proper temperature
- Purchasing food from unsafe sources
- Poor personal hygiene by food handlers
- Holding food at improper temperatures
- Using contaminated equipment
The FDA has identified certain foods as being potentially hazardous foods (PHF) because they contain microorganisms which are able to grow rapidly, and therefore make these foods more likely to transmit a foodborne illness. PHF have a history of being involved with foodborne illnesses, as they are often moist, contain protein, and have a neutral or slightly acidic pH.
These foods include:
- Milk and milk product
- Shell eggs (except those treated to eliminate Salmonella)
- Meat, poultry, and fish
- Shellfish and edible crustacean (such as shrimp, lobster, and crab)
- Baked or boiled potatoes
- Tofu or other soy-protein food
- Garlic and oil mixtures
- Plant food (including fruit and vegetables) that has been heat-treated (cooked, partially cooked, or warmed)
- Sprouts and sprout seeds
- Sliced melons
- Synthetic ingredients (such as textured soy protein in meat alternatives)
What can you do to help keep your food safe at home, and prevent yourself and others from becoming ill? Check out these tips!
- Do not eat food that looks or smells questionable. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Check expiration dates on food packaging. If the food item has expired, throw it away, even if it looks safe to eat.
- Refrigerate leftovers and any type of food that should be refrigerated within two hours. Leftover food should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.
- Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Do not thaw food at room temperature. Cook food that has been thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water. Use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking, in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.
- Do not place cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has had raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices on it.
- Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that will not be cooked.
- Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood. In addition, keep raw fruits and vegetables away from kitchen utensils that will be used for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Do not eat uncooked cookie dough, as it may contain raw eggs.
- When reheating sauces, soups, and gravies, bring them to a rolling boil.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Don’t forget to check them periodically with an appliance thermometer.
By following these tips, you are helping to ensure that your food is safe to eat.
Your task: Go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry periodically and check for any expired food and old leftovers. Post these tips in your kitchen as a reminder on how to help keep your food safe.