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Food Poisoning

Refrigerating Food the Right Way

With age comes a change in our immune system: It becomes a bit sluggish in recognizing and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. The body doesn’t react like it used to – older adults who contract a foodborne illness are more likely to have a lengthier illness and to be hospitalized. Listeria can spread through the bloodstream to cause meningitis and can often be fatal. The older you are, the greater the risk. An adult over 65 is four times more likely to contract Listeriosis than is another healthy adult.

But simple solutions like making sure the refrigerator is set at the right temperature could make all the difference. The nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education is introducing a new campaign, GO 40 °F OR BELOW, to call attention to the importance of the home refrigerator in reducing the risk of foodborne illness, especially among adults age 65 and over.  Refrigeration at 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

According to a risk assessment produced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), refrigeration at 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

The assessment, cited by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, found that the predicted number of cases of Listeriosis would be reduced by more than 70% if all home refrigerator temperatures did not exceed 41 °F. The only way to be sure the home refrigerator is at or below the recommended temperature of 40 °F or below is to measure the temperature with a refrigerator thermometer. This type of thermometer is usually a separate tool that stays in the refrigerator and displays the actual temperature.

Besides keeping your refrigerator at a safe temperature, the Partnership for Food Safety Education experts say, you should always follow the core rules for food safety:

Clean

Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.

Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.

Separate

Cross-contamination is how bacteria can be spread. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene — wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops and utensils with hot soapy water.

Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator.

Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

Cook

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. The best way to Fight BAC!® is to:

Use a food thermometer which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Cook roasts and steaks to a minimum of 145°F. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.

Cook ground meat, where bacteria can spread during grinding, to at least 160°F. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links eating undercooked ground beef with a higher risk of illness. Remember, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your burgers.

Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.

Cook fish to 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.

Make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive) when cooking in a microwave oven. For best results, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.

Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.

Chill

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.

Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store.

Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).

Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

Always marinate food in the refrigerator.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education delivers science-based behavioral health messaging and a network of resources that support consumers in their efforts to reduce risk of foodborne infection. For more information, visit www.fightbac.org.