Columns | Sauk Valley News

Beyond Trim: Clean, separate, cook and chill your food

You may have experienced food poisoning at some point in your life. It happens to about 1 in 6 Americans every year. While some people mistake it for the stomach flu, it’s differentiated from influenza because it comes on and tends to resolve itself quickly.

Which is not to say it’s pleasant. Some cases of food poisoning can lead to hospitalization and even death.

September is Food Safety Education Month, and it’s a good time to remind everyone about the steps you can take to reduce your risk of suffering (and making others suffer).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following advice to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses:

  • Clean: Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen. Always wash your hands after handling uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, flour and eggs. Wash all surfaces, cutting boards and knives. In addition, rinse fruits and vegetables under running water before cutting or consuming.
  • Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in your grocery cart. At home, keep them separate in the refrigerator and make sure the packages don’t leak onto other foods. Use separate cutting boards and knives for them. Do not wash raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs before using them. This is news to many people, but it’s been found that washing these foods can actually splash germs onto counters and cabinets.
  • Cook: A food thermometer is the best way to ensure that foods are cooked to a temperature that will kill germs. Different foods require different cooking times. For example, many meats need to be cooked to at least 145 degrees; ground meats and chicken require 165 degrees; and fish requires 145 degrees. Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165 degrees.
  • Chill: Refrigerate leftover food promptly. Bacteria can multiply quickly when food is left at room temperature or left too long in the “danger zone” between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Make sure your refrigerator is set to 40 degrees or below and your freezer to zero degrees or below. Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, some vegetables, leftovers) within a few hours. If the food has been exposed to temperatures above 90 degrees, refrigerate it within one hour. Never thaw frozen food on the counter. Thaw safely in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

For more information about handling food safely, check out the food safety home page on the CDC website.

  • Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.