Food poisoning is one thing that people often worry about when eating food at a restaurant, especially if they have not eaten there before. While food poisoning is widely regarded as something that comes from food in a restaurant, or somewhere else outside of the home, keep in mind that food prepared within your own home can cause this problem as well. One benefit, though, is the greater degree of control you can have over the food prepared in your kitchen.
To reduce the risk of food poisoning, one must understand how the food poisoning process works. Coming down with a food-borne illness is a direct result of digesting food that has viruses, bacteria, and even parasites, which have developed on the food over time. While harmful bacteria and other "germs" are common in virtually any environment, a healthy immune system usually protects the body from becoming ill. When you introduce tainted food directly into the body, however, it becomes harder to combat.
Coming down with a food-borne illness typically leads to symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and even vomiting. Food poisoning symptoms can appear either within a few hours or can take up to a few days to manifest; any timeline will greatly depend on the food that was digested, as well as how your body handles it. With that said, here are a few safety precautions that one must take in order to avoid this type of poisoning:
Know the Risky Foods
If you cannot control the foods that are handed to you such as dishes at a restaurant, you must know which kinds of foods that can cause this sort of poisoning. Food such as undercooked meats, raw produce, and even seafood are notorious for carrying viruses and parasites. Avoiding these dishes altogether can reduce your risk of food poisoning a great deal, but may be considered an unreasonable precaution for meat eaters. It is important to consider both your appetite for risk along with your literal appetite when making choices. However, if you ever feel your food is undercooked, never be afraid to send it back.
Always Wash your Hands and Food Contact Surfaces
Before serving any type of food at home, always make sure that you wash your hands properly and with antibacterial hand soap. You should wash both before and during preparation, especially after handling raw meat, fish, and poultry. Not washing your hands between handing raw meat and lettuce used in a salad, for example, can easily cross contaminate the salad. You also need to sanitize cutting boards, countertops, pans, utensils, and other surfaces that encounter food.
Use a Thermometer
When preparing and cooking items such as meats, use a meat thermometer to ensure that the inside of the meat is at an appropriate temperature. When cooking foods such as fish and chicken, the temperature should always be higher than 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. By reaching these temperatures, you will kill the vast majority of live bacteria or parasites.
Always Chill Food
The longest that raw meats should stay out of a refrigerator is two hours. It is best to either thaw your meats in the microwave, or let them sit in the refrigerator until they are ready to be cooked. When thawing food at room temperatures, be sure to set it down on a plate away from any other types of food and make sure that it does not touch the countertop.
Check the Expiration Date
Although this may sound obvious, it is crucial that you check the expiration date on the meats that are going to be prepped. All grocery stores and butchers will place a date to use by on all labels. Be sure to glance at these labels before cooking. If the meat has expired, do not gamble and try to cook it - play it safe and toss it out.