Every year, 3,000 Americans die because of something they ate. This guide from Good Housekeeping will help you keep your family — and yourself — safe, whether you're shopping in the supermarket, preparing food at home or dining out.
In the supermarket:
- Prioritize your shopping. Pick up canned and packaged foods first, then fresh items. Keep raw meat away from other edibles, since its packaging could be leaky.
- Check that the produce cooler is cold. Many food-borne bugs thrive in warmer temperatures.
- Keep a cooler with ice packs in your trunk in order to prevent pathogens from multiplying, food should not be at room temperature or above for more than two hours, as can happen if you have a long drive or are making several stops.
- Don’t assume greenmarket fare is always safer. There’s no guarantee that organics and local items are free of contaminants.
- Set your fridge at 37° and your freezer at 0° Promptly chill groceries and leftovers; also, don’t leave buffet food out for more than two hours.
- Do not wash raw meat or poultry. You may think you’re rinsing off dangerous pathogens, but you’re actually spraying any bugs that may be on them around your sink and nearby countertops.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Place raw meat and seafood in resealable bags or containers so they can’t leak onto other foods or onto fridge shelves. Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and ready-to-eat foods like produce.
- Don’t use the same platters and utensils for raw and cooked foods. It may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s all too easy—and dangerous— to whisk burgers or chicken legs off a grill or out of the oven and put them on the same plate you used to carry them there.
- Use one of three methods to defrost meat, poultry, or fish. You can place it in the fridge, put it in a leakproof bag and submerge in cold water (changing the water every 30 minutes), or microwave it. Countertop thawing is not safe, because pathogens can multiply when meat sits out.
- When cooking meat, don’t go by color. Natural chemical interactions can make a burger look brown throughout when it’s still underdone. Instead, use an instant-read thermometer. Of the 22 models the Good Housekeeping Research Institute last tested, the Taylor Weekend Warrior Digital Thermometer and the Oxo Good Grips Digital Instant Read Thermometer were tops. For safe cooking temps, go to isitdoneyet.gov.
- Wash fresh fruits and veggies, then dry with a paper towel, which may further reduce bacteria levels. (Clean your hands and surfaces with hot, soapy water first.) But don’t wash produce labeled “ready-toeat,” “prewashed,” or “triplewashed”: If you rinse it, you risk picking up germs from your kitchen, and if the item is contaminated, the disease-causing bugs won’t come off with at-home washing.
- Skip raw sprouts on sandwiches and salads. Their growing conditions are especially hospitable to dangerous pathogens. Sprouts are OK if cooked until very hot.
- Check the restaurant’s latest health inspection. This Web portal directs you to your local health authority, which will carry the salient info: allfoodbusiness.com/health_inspections.php.
- Take caution with burgers. Fast-food chains have safeguards in place, but at other kinds of restaurants, before you order a hamburger, ask your server: “How do you know when it’s done?” If the answer doesn’t involve a meat thermometer, consider another item on the menu.
- Be smart about salad bars. You want to see servers replacing bins (not simply dumping new batches on top of old ones) at regular intervals.
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