These tips for safe food handling were compiled from a wide range of sources, including federal and state government health agencies, medical and public health groups, consumer advocates and News21 reporting.
Find Health Departments
• Every state has a food safety division in its health or agriculture department.
• It’s up to you – and your doctor – to report foodborne illness to your state or local health agency so that officials can take action, notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and keep more people from getting sick.
• Becoming familiar with the symptoms of foodborne illnesses and understanding how to handle them quickly and efficiently may help prevent serious complications.
• This is general information about foodborne illnesses and is not a substitute for a doctor’s care.
• Consult a physician immediately if you believe you have a foodborne illness.
• If you work in a high-risk facility – day care center, nursing home or hospital – you could pose a greater risk to the people around you and should talk to your doctor about having a stool sample tested to assist in diagnosis.
Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, headache.
Treatment: Treat symptoms. Keep hydrated with plenty of liquids and oral rehydration fluids. There is no vaccine or drug to treat people who become sick. Antibiotics will not help because they fight bacteria not viruses.
Symptoms: Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting.
Treatment: If salmonella has not entered your bloodstream, you can treat symptoms by staying hydrated and using anti-diarrheals (these relieve cramping but may prolong the diarrhea). If salmonella is in your bloodstream or if you have a weakened immune system, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. For people who don’t meet these criteria, antibiotics may lengthen the time they carry the disease, which can result in relapse or passing the infection on to others.
Symptoms: Watery diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, fever (rare).
Treatment: Symptoms are treated. Antibiotics are not typically used.
Symptoms: Bloody diarrhea, cramps, fever, vomiting.
Treatment: Symptoms are treated for most cases. In severe cases, antibiotics can be used early in the diarrheal disease.
Symptoms: Sudden intense nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever.
Treatment: Treat symptoms. Rest and hydrate. The bacteria are not making you sick – the toxins the bacteria produce are – so antibiotics are not useful.
Symptoms: Flu-like, including aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, fatigue, sore throat. People with weakened immune systems may experience headache, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung problems or blurry vision. These people should see a doctor immediately if they suspect an infection. Pregnant women also should visit a doctor because of the serious effects this infection can have on the fetus.
Treatment: Most healthy people recover without treatment. There are drugs for severe infections. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should get treatment as soon as possible.
E. coli (STEC) O157
Symptoms: Bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting. There is usually no fever.
Treatment: Treat symptoms. Antibiotics are not usually given because some studies show this may promote the development of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure.
Symptoms: Fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea. Pregnant women may have a mild flu-like illness.
Treatment: Antibiotics taken as soon as possible can cure the illness and prevent infection to the fetus.
• Be aware of potential safety risks when purchasing food at grocery stores or farmers markets and from wholesalers.
Know the Recalls
• Visit the Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service websites for the latest food and drug recalls.
• Follow @USDAFoodSafety and @FDArecalls on twitter to get the latest recall information.
• Check for recall notices at your local grocery stores or restaurants.
• “If you sense there’s a problem with any food product, don’t consume it. ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’”
• FSIS also maintains a list of additional recall resources:
Learn the Labels
• Do not eat or taste food from cans that bulge or leak or that have a sticky residue or an unusual smell. The food could be contaminated.
• Read food packaging labels for instructions on how to store foods after opening and for expiration dates.
Note the different types of expiration jargon. FSIS provides a list of what to look for:
• A “Sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Buy the product before the date expires.
• A “Best if used by” (or “Before”) date is recommended for best flavor or quality.
• A “Use-by” date is the last date recommended to use the product at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer.
Patricia Buck, director of Outreach & Education at the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, recommends the following shopping tips:
• Make sure the produce is not bruised because pathogens are more likely to grow on bruised areas.
• Be aware of fungus growing on produce because spores could be inside it.
• Check for insects on produce.
• Raw meat, poultry and fish can be contaminated with bacteria, so it is best to put the product in a bag to reduce cross-contamination with other grocery items.
• If your local grocer does not keep bags at the meat counter, suggest it.
• Review CFI’s Six Safe Food Practices for additional tips.
• It’s important to remember that certain foods often sold in stores or farmers markets are not always safe for consumers who are pregnant, elderly, very young or who have compromised immune systems.
Washington State University’s School of Food Science recommends the following precautions for eating potentially risky foods:
• Drink only pasteurized milk and fruit juices.
• Use water from a safe water supply for drinking and food preparation.
• Avoid eating raw sprouts.
• Avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood.
• Avoid eating foods containing raw eggs; use pasteurized eggs or egg products in uncooked foods containing eggs.
• Use cheese and yogurt made from pasteurized milk.
• Obtain shellfish from sources that are approved by federal or state food safety agencies.
If you’re pregnant, elderly or have a compromised immune system:
• Avoid soft cheeses, cold smoked fish or cold deli salads.
• Avoid hot dogs and lunch meats that have not been reheated to steaming hot or 165 degrees.
Ohio State University’s Agricultural Research and Development Center lists the following as risky foods for children:
• Raw (unpasteurized) dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
• Unpasteurized fruit juices
• Raw sprouts
• Undercooked meat, such as ground beef
• Raw eggs, like those found in cookie dough
• Avoid contamination from food handlers, other foods and the surrounding environment.
Defrosting, Cooking and Chilling
• Proper temperature is important to keep food safe.
• Buy a food thermometer to ensure you are cooking raw meats and eggs to proper temperatures.
• Store food promptly in a refrigerator at 40 F or cooler. Do not overload refrigerators or freezers as that may prevent cool air from circulating.
• Defrost food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.
• Proper storage helps maintain food at safe temperatures and prevents cross contamination.
• Store milk, eggs, seafood and meat inside the refrigerator or freezer, not in door compartments. This keeps food at a steadier temperature.
• Store raw meat in the lowest compartment of the refrigerator and make sure that it isn’t leaking blood.
• Do not store food under the sink. Pipe leaks could contaminate it. Don’t store food near chemicals or cleaning products.
• Seafood should stay in the refrigerator or freezer until cooking time.
• Washing may reduce risk in some but not all foods.
• Do not wash eggs. They already have been washed in commercial production. An extra washing may increase risk of cross-contamination or crack the shell
• Do not wash meat or poultry. This does not remove pathogens.
• Washing produce with cold running water removes dirt, reducing (but not completely eliminating) bacteria that may be present. Don’t use soap or detergent, or you may ingest it.
Additional tips from the Washington State Department of Health
• Animals are not allowed in food preparation areas of restaurants because of germs. Keep your pets off kitchen counters and out of the kitchen sink at home.
• If you’re hosting a party, plan ahead and keep foods at proper temperatures, have enough utensils for serving and rapidly cool leftovers in shallow pans.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
- American Medical Association
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Washington State University’s School of Food Science
- Washington State Department of Health
- Minnesota Office of the Revisor Statutes