Diet & Nutrition
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Is Your Kitchen Making You Sick? How to Prevent Food Poisoning

Avoid a cooking disaster, or a trip to the ER, with these food-safety tips.

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By Beth Ward

These days, it seems like one company after another is recalling food due to contamination from bugs like salmonella. There are 48 million cases of food borne illness each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But the truth is, it isn’t always the result of bad practices in restaurants or food processing facilities. 

Of the one in six Americans struck down by food poisoning each year, 70% got sick due to mistakes made in their own kitchens, says the American Council on Science and Health.

Read on for tips from Kelly Snow, RD, of Grand Strand Medical Center in South Carolina that can help you stay vigilant and keep your kitchen free from food poisoning.

Keep it clean.

2 / 8 Keep it clean.

The best way to keep your kitchen free from food-borne illness is to keep it clean. Wash your hands before and after handling food, and sanitize countertops and cooking surfaces with a clean sponge or dishrag before and after cooking, says Snow.

“People continually use the same sponge to clean their dishes, and that sponge harbors a lot of bacteria that can be spread [throughout your kitchen].”

Don’t forget to clean and sanitize cutting boards with hot, soapy water, baking soda or a bleach solution, too. And if your cutting board has too many knife scars on it, go ahead and toss it, she says; bacteria love hiding out in those tiny crevices. 

Be a smart shopper.

3 / 8 Be a smart shopper.

What you buy and how you shop are also important tools in preventing food bugs from coming home with you.

The FDA recommends keeping raw meats and seafood away from other foods in your cart as you shop, and to bag them separately at checkout. Also keep an eye out for dents, bulges and cracks in canned foods or food packaged in glass jars. This could be a sign that the food has been under-processed or contaminated.


A couple other tips: Buy frozen foods and perishables last to prevent spoiling, and make sure you get home and put away all perishable items within one to two hours depending on the temperature outside. 

Store food properly.

4 / 8 Store food properly.

If you’re storing meats, poultry or seafood in the fridge to use right away, keep them on the bottom to prevent the liquid from leaking onto other food, says Snow.

If you plan on freezing them, she says, do so by the use-by date. You can store frozen, uncooked ground beef for three to four months, uncooked poultry parts for nine months and uncooked steak or chops for four to 12 months.

Also, keep eggs, dairy, produce and ready-to-eat foods such as lunch meats stored in a refrigerator set at 40°F or less, and store fruits and veggies separately, as some fruits can emit ethylene, a ripening agent that can spoil surrounding vegetables.  

Be mindful of cooking temperatures.

5 / 8 Be mindful of cooking temperatures.

Cooking foods at the right temperature can also help kill dangerous pathogens.
 

  • Ground beef and pork: 160°F 
  • Ground chicken and turkey: 165°F
  • Beef, pork, or lamb steaks, roasts and chops: 145°F 
  • Precooked ham: 140°F
  • Whole chicken or turkey, thighs, wings or breasts and roasts: 165°F 
  • Fin fish: 145°F, or until skin is pearly and opaque and the flakes easily
  • Shrimp, lobster and crab: 145°F, or until pearly and opaque
  • Clams, oysters and mussels: Cook until shells open
  • Eggs: Cook until whites and yolks are firm
  • Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F
Save the dates -- and check them.

6 / 8 Save the dates -- and check them.

It can be tough knowing whether or not the food in your house is still safe to eat, but the packaging dates are a good place to start. It’s best not to purchase foods that have been sitting on the shelf past the expiration date, either.

Stick to these tips when you get your groceries home:

  • Use eggs within three weeks of purchase.
  • If you’re not freezing them, use fresh fish and ground meats within two days, and steaks or chops within five days.
  • Follow expiration dates on dairy.  

​Also heed your senses. If something doesn’t look or smell right, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and throw it in the trash. 

Be leery of leftovers.

7 / 8 Be leery of leftovers.

Storing leftovers is a great budget-saver, but you have to be careful about how long you let things sit in the fridge.

“No more than four days for leftovers,” says Snow. “And dating them is always a good idea, whether it’s the date you put them in the refrigerator or the day it was cooked.”

Also be on the lookout for anything that looks spoiled. If your leftovers appear to be growing mold, it’s definitely time to toss them out. 

More safety tips.

8 / 8 More safety tips.

  • Never prepare raw meats and poultry on the same surface as fruits, veggies or other fresh foods. They should be cooked, stored and prepared separately to prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and germs, says Snow.
  • The longer foods stay at room temperature, the more likely they are to begin growing bacteria, so the quicker you cool and refrigerate, the better (warm foods shouldn’t go straight into the fridge).
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 46% of food poisoning comes from produce. Always wash your fruits and veggies before using.

See more from Kelly Snow, RDN