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Savvy Smarts: Useful Tips for Preventing Food Poisoning

Savvy Smarts: Useful Tips for Preventing Food Poisoning

By: Linda Winkler Garvin, R.N., M.S.N. ~

Is the food in your kitchen a safety hazard? The CDC estimates that every year approximately 250 million Americans experience some type of food poisoning, frequently caused by bacteria. About 5,000 people die yearly as a result. Estimates from the FDA are as many as 1 in 6 Americans who suffer from food poisoning each year. The FDA also estimates that 2-3 % of foodborne illnesses may lead to secondary long term illnesses.

Here’s a checklist to help you prevent Food Poisoning:

1) Preparation, Cleaning and Handling of Food:

Keep kitchen surfaces clean and wash hands often. Remember that bacteria may be spread throughout the kitchen by contaminated hands, food, counter tops, utensils, cutting boards and even towels and oven mitts.

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food items, rubbish and also if handling pets as they come in the kitchen for treats.

Rinse fruits and vegetables under water (preferably filtered) and rub or use a vegetable brush to scrub.

Thoroughly wash dishes, counter-tops and utensils with soap and water before working with a new food item as well as after you are finished.

If using a dish towel to clean surface areas, remember to wash it in hot water and replace daily. Using paper towels and promptly discarding may also decrease the possibility of spreading germs.

2) Separate Foods and Avoid Cross Contamination:

Bacteria can be spread through cross contamination. Certain foods and their juices need to be kept away from other foods. These foods include raw meat, eggs, seafood and poultry.

Store your raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs separated from other foods in your refrigerator as juices can leak.

Use two separate cutting boards: one for raw meat seafood or poultry and the other for fresh produce.

Always put cooked food on a new plate to separate from raw food.

3) Refrigerating and Freezing Foods:

When refrigerating or freezing food keep in mind that cold foods may slow the growth of harmful bacteria. A constant refrigerator temperature of 40ºF or below is one of the most effective methods to reduce harmful bacterial growth. The temperature in your freezer should be 0ºF or below.

Always remember to freeze or refrigerate meats, poultry, eggs, cooked or other perishable food, such as fresh cut fruits and vegetables, as soon as you arrive home after food shopping.

Do not crowd a refrigerator with food. Cold air needs circulation for food safety.

Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on top of the counter.

Never defrost food at room temperature. Always maintain a safe storage temperature during the thawing process. There are 3 safe places in which to defrost food:

  • The refrigerator
  • A bowl of cold water
  • Microwave

General timing rules for food:

Avoid leaving any perishable food out for more than 2 hours.

Do not keep any leftovers in the refrigerator for more than 3 days.

Food thawed in either the microwave or cold water should be cooked immediately.

4) Food Storage:

Go Through Your Refrigerator at Least Once a Week to Prevent Fresh Foods From Spoiling:
Cupboard or pantry storage in glass jars is good for nuts, seeds, grains, dried fruits and prepared crackers for 3 months. If keeping longer, refrigerate or freeze.

Dried fruit may be kept frozen for up to a year, if soaked and then dehydrated.

Buy non-irradiated spices. Store spices in clear glass jars away from light and replace spices every year.

Counter tops are great for foods you really want to enjoy looking at before you eat, such as bowls of certain fresh fruits (apples and bananas, etc) and raw snacks in glass jars.

Store food in cool cabinets, away from any heat source.
Throw away any can or package with dented or a torn label.

Do not keep packages or cans beyond the expiration date.

Opened pasta or rice should be kept in glass jars, plastic bags or containers.

Date food packages, when possible and use the oldest ones first.

Linda Winkler Garvin, R.N., M.S.N., of Alameda, California, is a Health Advocate in the Bay Area & Director of Health Management Associates.  She assists individuals & families in making informed choices by providing explanations of your health options, advocating on your behalf with hospital & medical staff, organizes your medical information,  assists in reviewing your health bills  & insurance payments, & offers wellness strategies to prevent chronic diseases.  She is the author of several articles on Healthy Lifestyles, Nutrition Pain Management & Travel. Learn more at or e-mail at