Must-Know Food Safety Tips For Reducing Your Risk of Food-Borne Illness at Home

Hygiene is at the top of everyone’s mind at the moment as the world grapples with COVID-19. Many of us are thinking more deeply about the spread of germs and what we can do to keep ourselves healthy. 

Currently, there’s no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is spread via food or food packaging. However, good food safety practices may help prevent other illnesses and reduce unnecessary stress during this uncertain time.

Below are 6 commonly overlooked tips for reducing your risk of food-borne illness at home:

1. Wash fresh produce

This may seem like an obvious one but it’s worth repeating. Washing fruit and vegetables, even when you don’t eat the skin, helps remove dirt and debris, as well as various food-borne illness offenders. No need to bust out the soap or detergent. According to the USDA, gently rubbing produce under running water is sufficient. 

2. Pay attention to cooking temperature

Uncooked and undercooked protein is a well-known cause of food borne illness but most people assess ‘doneness’ incorrectly. The most effective way to determine if proteins such as meat and eggs are safe to eat is to stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the food and follow these safe minimum internal temperature guidelines. Cooking food to these minimum internal temperatures kills many of the germs known to cause food-borne illness.

3. Stay out of the danger zone

Leaving food in the danger zone (40 °F – 140°F) fosters bacterial growth and increases your risk of food-borne illness. Keep hot food above 140°F and cold food below 40°F to cut your risk of acquiring food-borne illness at home. Defrost food in the fridge or under cold running water rather than leaving it on the kitchen counter, and transfer leftovers to the fridge within 2 hours. 

4. Check the packaging

Check the expiry before consuming foods from the depths of your pantry. Avoid food packaging with bumps, bulges and/or tears. Broken seals provide an entry point for bacteria, viruses and other food-borne illness culprits. Bulges can be an indication of bacterial growth and dented can goods can harbor Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism. Check out this guide from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more food safe shopping tips. 

5. Separate ready-to-eat foods and from raw protein-rich foods like poultry, seafood, eggs and meat

Uncooked protein-rich foods such as seafood and meat can be sources of salmonella, e.coli and various other food-borne illness culprits. Store raw seafood and meat below ready-to-eat items (such as fruit and veggies) and leftovers in the fridge to help reduce your risk of food-borne illness. Use separate surfaces and utensils for preparing ready-to-eat and raw proteins to prevent cross contamination.

6. Wash your hands

Washing your hands regularly, especially before eating, is incredibly important for minimizing your risk of food-borne illness and other infections, including COVID-19. The current guidelines recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Singing happy birthday to yourself can be a helpful way to ensure that you’re washing your hands for an adequate amount of time. When you wash your hands, scrub your hands front and back, up your wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. 

Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD (Aus), CSSD

Edwina is a nationally-recognized dietitian and wellness expert, dually credentialed in Australia and the US. She has worked for several early-stage businesses as a nutrition consultant, content creator, and brand spokesperson, and has been featured on sites such as TIME, Women’s Health, SELF, and Shape, among others. In her free time, you can find Edwina blogging on edwinaclark.com, running, and planning her next travel adventure.

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