Protecting Against Foodborne Illness
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Food contamination can happen at the factory, the supermarket, or even in our own homes, if food processors, handlers, or the public are not careful when handling or preparing food. There are several potential food hazards, which can be grouped into three general categories: physical, chemical, or biological in nature.
Physical contamination of food can occur when objects such as glass, hair or dirt become mixed with food. In the home, consumers can reduce the potential for physical contamination by:
- Ensuring food preparation surfaces are clean prior to using.
- Washing their hands thoroughly before and after handling any food products, especially raw meats.
- Covering and properly storing ingredients and leftovers.
Chemical contamination of food can occur when food additives or cleaning chemicals or pesticides are present in food products. Examples of chemical contamination include:
- Food additives to which some people are allergic, such as sulfites and MSG.
- Cleaning chemicals and pesticides stored too close to food or used improperly on food preparation surfaces.
Below are some common forms of bacteria that can sometimes be found in food products:
- Botulism (Clostridium botulinum) is commonly found in soil and can be found in improperly canned food products. Do not open swollen or rusted cans. Use pressure cooking when canning foods and boil home-canned vegetables for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Staphylococcus aureus is a form of bacteria that is found on the skin and hands of 50% of all people as well as on raw meats. As the bacteria can be destroyed during cooking, proper handwashing and temperature control during cooking, cooling, and storage is essential.
- E. coli is a fecal contaminant that can be found on some raw meat or dairy products and, at times, on unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Cook all raw meat and poultry, especially ground meats, to an internal temperature of at least 160°F. Produce that will not be further processed should be washed thoroughly before slicing or eating.
- Salmonella is a very common bacteria found in raw or undercooked foods. Proper handwashing and temperature control during cooking, cooling, and storage can help protect against Salmonella infections. Cook food from animal sources thoroughly and refrigerate foods properly. Avoid consuming undercooked poultry or raw, undercooked or cracked eggs.
Viruses do not actually grow on food, but they will survive on food and can be transmitted to other people. Viruses that can be spread via food include Hepatitis A and the Norwalk virus. Infected people should not prepare or handle food products.