Preventing Food Poisoning
Handling food the right way can help you avoid germs that can make you sick. Keep food safe and avoid illness by following these basic food safety rules:
Frequently wash hands and surfaces touched by food. Germs can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, counter tops, sponges, and towels.
Don't let germs spread from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep these foods and their juices away from other foods.
Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful germs that cause illness. Always use a thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, or fish reach a safe minimum cooking temperature.
Refrigerate promptly to keep harmful germs from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40° Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0° Fahrenheit. Check the accuracy of the settings with a thermometer.
Important Causes of Foodborne Illness
Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning or foodborne disease, is any illness caused by eating contaminated food. It is a common cause of diarrhea in Wisconsin. For more information on harmful bacteria and viruses, visit our food poisoning webpage.
The way you store your food can make the difference between healthy, great tasting meals or food poisoning.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers these tips:
- Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours (one hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
- Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within two days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within three to five days.
- Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food.
- To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer.
Safely Eating Out
Going out to eat allows you to try new foods and spend time with friends and family. When you eat out it is important to keep a few things in mind:
- If you become sick, and you think a meal from a restaurant caused your illness, remember to report your illness to your local health department.
- The food you eat may smell, taste, and look fine, but more than half of foodborne outbreaks are linked to restaurants. High risk foods include meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs. If not fully cooked, these foods may have germs that can make you sick. These items must be fully cooked in order to reduce your risk of getting sick. Don’t be afraid to send your food back if it is not fully cooked.
- Make sure you put your leftovers in the fridge within two hours of eating, or one hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees. Make sure to reheat your leftovers to 165 degrees.
Special Holiday Treats
Some traditional holiday treats may have some special guidelines for safe seasonal enjoyment:
Tiger Meat or Cannibal Sandwiches: For some Wisconsinites, it’s a tradition to eat raw ground beef dishes, often referred to as tiger meat, steak tartare or cannibal sandwiches.
It is important to know that eating these types of foods is not without risks. Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria are bacteria that can be found in raw and undercooked beef. Regardless of where you buy your ground beef, these risks are real.
Since 1986, eight outbreaks have been reported in Wisconsin linked to eating a raw ground beef dish, including a large Salmonella outbreak involving more than 150 people during December 1994. Ground beef should ALWAYS be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F.
Baked goods: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers not to eat uncooked cookie dough, whether homemade or commercial, or batters made with raw fresh eggs. This is because raw fresh eggs may contain the bacteria Salmonella, and flour used in baking has been linked to E. coli outbreaks. Proper and complete cooking kills bacteria that cause these infections.
Eggnog: Traditional eggnog made with raw eggs is also a potential risk, again because the raw egg may contain the bacteria Salmonella. While cooking can destroy the disease-causing bacteria, consumers can still become ill when the eggnog is left at room temperature for several hours before being consumed. Safe alternatives are pasteurized eggnog beverages sold in grocery dairy cases; these products should be kept refrigerated.
Apple cider and other juices: Apple cider is often served during the holiday season. Apple cider and most juices available at grocery stores are pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. However, unpasteurized or raw juice may be found in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, or at health-food stores, cider mills or farm markets. Such juices must have this warning on the label:
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
If you can't tell whether a juice has been processed to destroy harmful bacteria, either don't use the product or boil it to kill any harmful bacteria.
Use caution when eating mail-order food, such as meat, poultry, fish and other perishables such as cheese, fruit, and cheesecake.
The person receiving the food should make sure they know when it is going to be delivered.
When it arrives, the package should be opened immediately. If the package is labeled "keep refrigerated" it should be chilled when it arrives.
More Food Safety Resources
- The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Food Safety for Consumers
- Food Safety.gov
- Fight BAC! website
- FDA Food Information Line, toll-free 1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366)
- USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-800-535-4555. TTY number for the hearing impaired: 1-800-256-7072. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.