Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, affects one in every six Americans annually. Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming foods and drinks contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and parasites, and trigger symptoms similar to those caused by the flu. Food poisoning can usually be prevented by storing and cooking your foods in a clean environment, and taking steps to avoid cross-contamination.
Follow these steps to lower your risk for foodborne illnesses.
Wash your hands
Bacteria on your hands can transfer to your food and increase the risk for food poisoning. Wash your hands using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you happen to cough, sneeze, or use the restroom while cooking, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Clean your cooking area
Clean and disinfect your counters before and after preparing food, and only use clean dishes, utensils, and kitchenware. Disinfect cutting boards immediately after use, and try using separate, designated cutting boards for meats and produce to lower the risk for cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination is when bacteria from contaminated food transfers to uncontaminated food. Always separate cooked or ready-to-eat foods from eggs and raw, uncooked meats and seafood. This lowers the risk for food poisoning caused by bacteria including salmonella, E. coli, and L. monocytogenes.
Thaw foods correctly
Allow foods to thaw fully in the refrigerator whenever possible to maintain freshness and prevent bacteria growth. Thawing foods at room temperature or in hot water can cause bacteria to quickly multiply on the food’s outer surface — increasing the risk for food poisoning. If you need certain foods thawed more quickly, thaw in cold running water and cook immediately afterwards.
Use a food thermometer
Familiarize yourself with safe minimum cooking temperatures to ensure you thoroughly cook all meats, poultry, and seafood before serving. For instance, poultry is considered fully cooked when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, while fresh beef is considered safe for consumption at 145 degrees. Use a food thermometer at all times to lower your risk for foodborne illness.
Store leftovers properly
Place all perishable leftovers in the freezer or refrigerator within two hours of preparation to reduce the risk for bacteria growth. Label all containers with dates, and consume within three to four days. When reheating leftovers, use a food thermometer to make sure its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees before consuming.
Place meats on the bottom shelf
Store raw packaged meats on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods and shelves. As an extra safety precaution, place these meats on plates or in extra bags to prevent bacteria from spreading to other foods.
Practice healthy living
Individuals with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses than those with stronger, healthier immune systems. Practice a series of healthy lifestyle habits to improve your immunity and lower the risk for food poisoning. Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and eat healthy, whole foods low in sugar that lack preservatives and additives.
Want more ideas for staying healthy in the kitchen? Our free healthy recipes e-book has dozens of easy-to-prepare healthy recipes for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner — even dessert!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on June 14, 2017