Food poisoning can be extremely unpleasant. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to experience it, you know that it’s no minor thing. It can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, as well as dehydration. The good news? There are quite a few things you can do to protect yourself from food poisoning while eating at home. From separating your proteins from produce while grocery shopping, to always ensuring a clean prep space, here’s how to prevent food poisoning.
What Is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food. Although it’s not pleasant, it’s usually not too serious and is treatable with home remedies. It leads to symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, a fever, and chills, and can kick in within hours or several days of eating the contaminated food.
The most common complication of food poisoning is dehydration, since both vomiting and diarrhea lead to large amounts of salt, minerals, and water being eliminated from the body. Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is key to curbing dehydration. You’ll typically recover from the most common types of food poisoning within 12 to 48 hours.
What Causes Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food. In most cases, food is contaminated by a virus or bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli or norovirus. Food can become contaminated at any point from the farm or fishery to the table. It can occur during growing, harvesting or catching, processing, storing, shipping, or preparing. Food can also become contaminated in places it’s handled, due to things like poor hand washing, not disinfecting cooking areas, and leaving food out for too long.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
- Diarrhea and watery diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle aches
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor if any of the symptoms you experience are severe, including:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Diarrhea that lasts more than three days
- High fever (over 102F)
- Not being able to keep liquids down
- Excessive thirst
- Severe pain in stomach or rectum
- Signs of dehydration – not peeing as much, a dry throat and mouth, feeling dizzy when standing up
You should also seek medical attention if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are over the age of 65
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have a serious medical condition, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or cancer
How to Prevent Food Poisoning
1. Keep Clean
Be diligent about washing your hands before preparing any food. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and dry them well after using the toilet, blowing your nose, touching animals (including pets), before eating, and before and after handling food. Cover any cuts with waterproof bandages, and don’t prepare food for others if you’re sick or have a skin infection.
2. Always Wash Fresh Produce
Fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by their growing conditions, animals, and people they come in contact with before you buy them. Washing your fresh produce helps eliminate harmful bacteria like E.coli.
And yes, you still need to wash it if you won’t be eating the skin. The bacteria on the surface can be transferred to the flesh by your knife when you cut into it. Rinse your produce under running water, rubbing it gently. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash. Firm produce like potatoes and cucumbers can be cleaned using a clean produce brush.
3. Separate Raw Protein and Produce
When you’re grocery shopping, make sure to separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from your produce. Juices from raw proteins can drip onto your produce, increasing the risk of food poisoning from bacteria. Make sure proteins and produce are bagged separately at checkout and store them away from each other in your fridge.
4. Cautious Prep
When you’re preparing your food, cut your produce first, or use a different cutting board and knife for raw meats and fish. Don’t put cooked food back onto a plate that held raw food previously. Make sure to always wash your hands, cutting boards, counter tops, and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
5. Throw Out Moldy Foods
Look for mold on fruits and vegetables, baked foods, cheese, nuts, and nut products. Any food with mold should be thrown away. You can trim away mold from firm foods with low moisture, such as carrots, bell peppers, and hard cheeses. Cut at least one inch around the moldy part, or throw it out if you’re unsure.
6. Cook Food Thoroughly
It’s super important to cook meats, poultry, and seafood properly. Undercooked meat is a serious problem as infectious organisms may not be killed at lower temperatures. Never wash raw meat before cooking, as this can spread bacteria around your kitchen. Make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages, and kebabs are cooked until steaming hot, with no pink meat inside. Consider getting a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the food you’re cooking.
7. Smell Your Food
If your food smells off (even a little bit), you shouldn’t risk eating it. Bad meat will have a sour smell, almost like spoiled milk. If eggs are runny, grey, or smelly, make sure to toss them. You’ll know dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, and milk are bad if they have a sour smell, become separated, or have mold on them. In general, it’s always best to follow your instincts. When in doubt, throw it out!
8. Speak Up
If you’re at a restaurant or a friend’s house for dinner and notice that your meat appears to be undercooked, say something. You may feel awkward, but it’s much better to be a bit uncomfortable and get properly cooked meat than to risk food poisoning. Make sure they bring you a fresh plate when they return with your food.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Use these tips to prevent food poisoning as best you can!
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