Three Best Practices to Avoid Foodborne Illnesses

Food-safety-grillingBy: Megan Hall, Registered Dietitian

Food safety is always important, even when cooking at home. More than 20 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks result from food that was consumed in the home.

Microbes that can potentially cause foodborne illnesses get into food through poor hygiene, time-temperature abuse and cross-contamination.

Common foodborne illnesses include:

  • Salmonella, which is found in poultry, meat, eggs, unpasteurized dairy products and raw produce.
  • Listeria, which is found in raw milk, soft cheeses, deli meats and raw produce.
  • E. coli, which is found in raw/undercooked meat, raw produced and unpasteurized milk.

Everyone should take proper care when cooking, however, certain people are at an increased risk for foodborne illnesses. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly, young children and pregnant women need to take special care. Symptoms of foodborne illnesses include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

To ensure proper food safety, follow these three best practices.

Avoid cross-contamination. Germs can easily transfer from one surface to another. Make sure you wash cutting boards between uses—especially if raw ingredients are being prepared. Germs can hide in cutting boards that have cracks or crevices. Any cracked cutting boards should be replaced. Kitchen appliances and tools that come into contact with raw foods are often hiding places for germs. Microbes are often found on fridge drawers, blender gaskets, can openers, rubber spatulas and containers with rubber seals. Wash these items in the dishwasher often or with warm water and soap. You should also regularly clean your kitchen counters, microwave and stovetop.

Minimum temperatures. Meat, seafood and eggs all need to be cooked to specific temperatures before you can safely consume them. You can’t tell if meat is safely cooked just by looking at it. I advise using a meat thermometer to make this easy. Meat thermometers are inexpensive and can be purchased at the store or online. I also recommend using a chart to learn the safe minimum cooking temperatures. Foodsafety.gov has a helpful cooking temperature chart that you can reference while cooking by printing it and hanging it on your fridge.

Foods shouldn’t be left out of the fridge for too long. The danger time and temperature zone is between 41 and 135 degrees for more than four hours. To avoid the danger zone, put food in the fridge right when you get home from the supermarket. You should also defrost foods in the fridge in advance—don’t defrost foods on the kitchen counter. Any leftovers shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than two hours or at or above 90 degrees for one hour.

Good hygiene. Practicing good personal hygiene will help you avoid foodborne illnesses. Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food or eating. Anyone who has been feeling ill should avoid preparing food until symptoms have resolved for at least 24 hours.

Practicing these safety tips will help reduce your chances of getting foodborne illnesses and ensure proper food safety.


Are you looking for additional information on living a healthy lifestyle? The Amber Pharmacy blog has numerous articles on medication management and general health and wellness.

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