Multiple times a year we get updates about recalled foods – everything from prepared foods from our favorite stores, to fresh vegetables have been recalled. It’s so important to follow the advice given by the Centers for Disease Control when a food has been recalled, which often means avoiding certain foods for a specific amount of time. However, aside from food recalls, there are other ways to get sick from food – including poor food handling practices.
Foodborne illness can be severe or even life-threatening for people who have cancer or who are on chemotherapy. And those of us whose GI tracts have been affected by colorectal cancer treatment have special reasons to try to avoid vomiting and diarrhea that can result from contaminated food.
Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea which develop within a few days of eating contaminated food. While these usually get better without treatment in healthy adults, children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those whose immune systems are weakened by cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other conditions are at risk for serious problems.
The FDA promotes four basic safety measures to prevent foodborne illness:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Teach your children to sing Happy Birthday twice to make sure they wash long enough.
- Wash cutting boards and other surfaces after preparing each item.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water and use a brush to scrub off surface dirt.
- Don’t rinse raw meat or poultry before cooking. This makes it easier to spread bacteria.
- Keep raw meat and poultry separated from foods that won’t be cooked while shopping, storing at home, and preparing.
- Have two cutting boards: one for meat and poultry, one for veggies and other foods that are served without cooking.
- Never put cooked meat back on the plate that held the raw meat.
- Cook food until it reaches an internal temperature high enough to kill bacteria, and use a thermometer to test. Don’t rely on color.
- Don’t nibble cookie dough which might contain raw eggs.
- Cook eggs until yolk and whites are firm, and never use raw eggs in eggnog or similar recipes.
- Reheat gravy, sauces, and soups to a rolling boil.
- Refrigerator leftovers within two hours.
- Keep your refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees or less, your freezer below zero.
- Never defrost foods at room temperature. Food can be safely defrosted in the refrigerator, under running cold water, or in the microwave. But if you use running water or a microwave, cook immediately!
- Take enough time to defrost completely before cooking. If a turkey is still frozen on the inside, the outside will be cooked before the inside is hot enough to destroy dangerous bacteria.
- Never taste food that is old or smells funny. When in doubt, throw it out.