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Food Safety. By Our July Student Pharmacist, Emily Burns.

Every year, 1 in 6 Americans become ill from foodborne diseases. Of those, approximately 3,000 will die from that illness.

Some of the most common bacteria that you might recognize that cause foodborne diseases are E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

Signs and symptoms of foodborne illness vary depending on the type of bacteria. Generally, people with food poisoning experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and dehydration. It is best to rest and drink plenty of clear liquids if you do have food poisoning. Do not use anti-diarrheal medications as these could increase the amount of time the bacteria remains in your body. Many times your condition will improve within two (2) days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that if we could prevent 10% of foodborne illness, there would be 5 million less Americans who get sick each year.

Steps you can take to prevent illness:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before touching food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, even if you intend to peel them because it is easy for bacteria to move to the inside of the fruit after cutting into it. Do not wash meat, poultry, or eggs.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives or wash thoroughly between each use when preparing fresh produce and meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Place meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags at the grocery to keep any of the juices from dripping onto fresh produce or other items in your shopping cart. Also, keep these items separate in your refrigerator for the same reason.
  • Inspect all food packaging before purchasing. Bulging cans or lids or damaged packages may mean that the food is contaminated.
  • Use a food thermometer. Bacteria will rapidly grow and multiply between 40° and 140°F.
  • Keep food hot after cooking it (140°F). This is best accomplished using a chaffing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.
  • Get perishable foods (dairy, meat, poultry, etc.) into the fridge or freezer within two hours. If the weather is hot like last week (90°F), it is only safe for one hour.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set to the correct temperature to keep your food cold. The refrigerator temperature should be between 32° and 40°F and the freezer should be at or below 0°F.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, submerged in cold water, or in the microwave. Never leave foods on the counter to thaw.
  • In case of a power outage, food in the refrigerator should be safe for up to four (4) hours. Discard any perishable foods that have been above 40°F for more than two (2) hours. For a full list of what may be safe and what you should toss, check out:  http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/refridg_food.html
  • Don’t forget to pack plenty of ice or ice packs in your cooler when heading out to a picnic or barbeque. Remember to try to keep the cooler shut and return any unused food ASAP so it isn’t sitting out in the hot sun letting bacteria multiply!

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