By HM2(SW/FMF) Bradley Proctor

Even though the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses. While restaurants and grocery stores are heavily regulated on food safety, individuals are often either uneducated or apathetic toward preparing and storing food safely at home. The Orange County Health Agency in California has identified the five leading causes of foodborne illness: Improper hot/cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous food, improper cooking temperatures of food, dirty and/or contaminated utensils and equipment, poor health and hygiene, and receiving food from unsafe sources.

The presence of one or more of these risk factors poses a substantial hazard to anyone, especially populations at increased risk such as the elderly, young children or the already sick. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss how you can prevent these risk factors and save yourself and yours from having to endure a foodborne illness.

Most people have some type of refrigerator, but not everyone knows how to safely store food in it. According to NAVMED p-5010-1, potentially hazardous food such as cooked or raw meat or cooked grains, fruits, or vegetables must be stored either below 41 degrees Fahrenheit or above 135 degrees Fahrenheit; these temperatures are shown to slow the growth of microorganisms that cause illness. When defrosting meats, move the item from the freezer to the refrigerator, allowing it to thaw without being out of the proper cold-holding temperature. Hot food must be kept above 135 degrees Fahrenheit until ready to serve.

When it comes to cooking safely, never “eyeball” how thoroughly something is cooked. Food must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, which can be measured with a probe thermometer. The temperature must be taken in the thickest part of the meat, taking care to not penetrate all the way to the cooking surface. Cooking food to the correct temperature is the only way to actually destroy illness-causing bacteria.

When utensils or equipment become dirty or contaminated, they can transfer that contamination to the food, which then can cause foodborne illnesses. Utensils can be contaminated with a buildup of food residue that creates a breeding ground for bacteria; cross contamination can also occur from coming into contact with either raw and ready-to-eat food, or toxic chemicals. Any surface that contacts food must be regularly cleaned as to avoid build-up of food residue. Anytime raw food touches the surface of a utensil or equipment, that surface should only to be used for that food until being thoroughly cleaned. Utensils and equipment can easily transfer bacteria from raw foods to ready-to-eat foods if you do not strictly adhere to this concept. Be sure to keep household cleaning products in a separate area from anything that comes into contact with food. If you suspect poisoning, you should immediately contact your local poison control center.

The importance of hand washing cannot be understated. Proper handwashing prevents the bacteria from everything you have touched around the house from entering your food. Regular handwashing will prevent cross contamination between different foods. Proper handwashing should consist of using warm water and soap for a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds to ensure bacteria is removed; you should also cover any cuts or open wounds on your hands while handling food.

Remember to always purchase food from a reputable source, where food is properly handled to avoid the aforementioned hazards. Look for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stamps on food items. Raw food should be received below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and hot food above 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

Adherence to food safety rules is an easy way to ensure the health of you and your family. Foodborne illnesses have a significant time and monetary impact on both business and the individual; in labor and medical costs. The USDA estimates that foodborne illnesses cost Americans $15.6 billion each year. Be smart, reduce risk, and protect those around you.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Orange County Health Care Agency
Navy Medicine

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