Each year, one in six Americans — 48 million people — gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But you can reduce your chances of getting sick by following these tips from federal and state government health agencies, medical and public health groups and consumer advocates:
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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.
- FSIS recommends: “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:
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- 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.
Sources include 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 and Minnesota Office of the Revisor Statutes.
News 21 reporters Rachel Albin, Jessica Testa and Serena del Mundo contributed to this report.