Millions of people in the United States are affected by food poisoning every year. While most people can bear the tummy troubles that come with the illness, some can get very sick. Because of the national media coverage of wide-spread outbreaks, the truth behind the myths of foodborne illness has become common knowledge.
Myth: If a food is kept in a cooler, it will be maintained at the proper temperature.
Fact: Unless you can guarantee the temperature in your cooler stays at or below 40 degree Fahrenheit, bacteria can still grow. There are many ways to prevent a bacteria growing environment. Give drinks their own cooler, as people often open and shut it which lowers the temperature. Pack raw meat in a separate cooler as well so there is not cross-contamination. Make sure to keep all coolers are full of ice, out of the sun and closed as much as possible.
Myth: You can tell if meat is cooked well enough by appearance.
Fact: The only way to tell if food is fully cooked is with a thermometer. Chicken, beef and pork can still be slightly pink yet be cooked to a safe temperature. In the same sense, beef can look well done and not be cooked long enough. Pork and beef should have an internal temperature of 145 degrees, while chicken and ground beef should reach 165 degrees.
Myth: Washing your hands quickly before touching food is good enough.
Fact: Remember in elementary school they would tell you to see the Happy Birthday song or the ABC’s while you washed your hands? It was because that is about the length of time you need to wash them properly to get rid of the bad bacteria. Make sure to use warm water and soap and to scrub between fingers, under nails and up to your wrist, drying them with a clean towel.
Myth: Organic food is safer than regular produce.
Fact: There is no proof that organically grown food is less contaminated than any other food. You should not assume local produce means safer. These farms still have the risk of being affected by bacteria. Their outbreaks are less noticed because of the smaller amount of people affected. You should still rinse organic produce thoroughly with clean water to prevent exposure to harmful germs.
Myth: As long as utensils, cutting boards, and dishcloths start out clean, they are safe to use from beginning to end.
Fact: Cross contamination is one of the major causes of food poisoning. Once you use a knife and cutting board to cut raw meat or unwashed produce, they are no longer safe to use with other food. You need to either clean them or use new ones. Same goes with dishcloths. When you clean the sink or dishes with your cloth, it is now dirty. If you clean the counter with same dirty cloth, you can spread bacteria and when you place food on it you risk bacteria spreading from the counter to the food.
If you do suffer from the symptoms of food poisoning (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and/or fever), it is important to recognize the signs. Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. If you do not feel better after 72 hours it is important to visit a doctor. Young children and the elderly are more susceptible to complications from food-borne illness as well as those with compromised immune systems.
Practice food safety steps and you will greatly reduce your chances of getting ill from that rack of ribs you spent hours grilling for your Saturday picnic. It may take a little more thought and a little more time, but it is well worth it. Happy eating!