Today’s Solutions: November 29, 2021

Summertime means more picnics, cookouts, and outdoor dining, but warmer weather also means a higher risk of foodborne illnesses. Fortunately, a few easy steps can help you stay healthy. Today we share tips from food science professor Ruth S. MacDonald on how to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Types of food-related microorganisms

While there are many organisms that cause food to spoil, pathogens are the specific type of microorganism that actually result in what we call food poisoning, severe illness. These are rarer, but also more harmful.

It’s fairly easy to recognize spoilage as it presents itself with fuzzy growth, foul smells, clumping, or clouding. Although spoiled food is usually not as serious as food tainted with pathogens, it’s a good idea to smell and look over food that has gone past its expiration date before consuming. (On the other hand, food past its expiration date is not necessarily spoiled; check for signs of spoilage before throwing away). Unfortunately, pathogens are usually not detectable on food with the naked eye.

Kitchen equipment 

Properly handling kitchen equipment is one of the safest ways to prevent foodborne illnesses. Use different cutting boards for meats and produce, and always place cooked meats on a clean plate. Avoid rinsing chicken in the sink, and always wash hands before handling and new ingredients.

Cooking meat up to temperature is also critical for avoiding pathogens. Generally, internal temperature recommendations are 160 F (71 C) for beef and pork, 165 F (74 C) for poultry, and 145 F (63 C) for fish and ham.

Managing leftovers

Safely storing food also helps prevent pathogens. Food should be stored in the refrigerator right after meals, and leftovers should be heated to 165 F (74 C) before eating. If you’re at an outdoor event, food should be kept in coolers with ice until ready for serving.

Once stored, most cooked food items should be eaten within three to four days and be on the lookout for signs of spoilage. Foods with high moisture content (like cakes or muffins) will spoil faster and unfortunately, homemade goods generally go bad faster than store-bought because they are free of preservatives.

If you’ve ever experienced food poisoning, you’ll know how awful it can be, but small food prep and storage steps will keep you safe and healthy!

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