Food Safety 101

From time to time, you may hear about food scares in the news, leaving you wondering what’s safe to eat. The good news is, simply handling certain foods properly can help keep you healthy. Here are a few common foods that require special attention:

Poultry and meat: Raw poultry and meat can harbor dangerous bacteria that may cause serious illness if not handled properly. Always use a dedicated cutting board to prepare raw poultry and meat and thoroughly wash all surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with them. In addition, make sure you carefully wash your hands before touching any other foods, utensils, or surfaces.

Eggs: Raw eggs have occasionally been associated with salmonella poisoning. Salmonella may be found on the outside of the eggshell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. However, eggs contain natural antimicrobial substances in the egg white, and all eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed. Factors that contribute to disease outbreaks are inadequate refrigeration, improper handling, and insufficient cooking (salmonella is destroyed by heat). Egg dishes properly prepared and promptly eaten are rarely a problem. Remember to always keep your eggs refrigerated and make sure you use them immediately after cracking.

Fruits and vegetables: The surfaces of some fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with bacteria or coated with pesticides. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before eating. This goes for the inedible skins of fruits and veggies, like cantaloupe and avocados, too. Also, keep fruits and veggies separated from raw meats, seafood, and eggs in the refrigerator. If you hear that produce has been contaminated (as bagged spinach and cantaloupe were at one time), it’s better to stop eating that food for a while until the issue is resolved.

Seafood: Always look for freshness when choosing seafood. In some cases, when the catch has been left out in the sun too long or the fish haven’t been transported under the proper refrigeration, toxins known as scombrotoxins, or histamines, can develop. When purchasing fresh fish, make sure it doesn't smell overly fishy or sour. Fresh fillets should have shiny flesh — steer clear of fillets that look dry or dull. Keep fresh fish refrigerated for up to two days or freeze it if you can’t cook it within that time. Fatty fish, like salmon, can be frozen for up to three months; leaner fish for up to six months. If you’re buying frozen fish, make sure the package isn’t torn and that there are no signs of frost or ice crystals, which could indicate that the fish was thawed and refrozen. Be sure to thoroughly clean all surfaces and utensils after preparation.

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