Protect Yourself From Food-Borne Illness

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Harvard Medical School
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Protect Yourself From Food-Borne Illness

Food Safety
Protect Yourself From Food-Borne Illness
Protect Yourself From Food-Borne Illness
There are more than 250 different food-borne diseases causing millions of cases of "food poisoning" each year.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Protect Yourself From Food-Borne Illness

Food-borne illness isn't a seasonal problem, but many of our favorite summertime foods — and the ways we prepare them — serve up the perfect opportunity for millions of cases of food poisoning that occur each year. Most of these cases cause little more than some temporary abdominal cramps, mild diarrhea and/or vomiting, but some food-borne illnesses cause severe diarrhea, liver disease or neurologic complications.

Most cases of food poisoning result from ingesting Norwalk viruses or bacteria such as salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni or E. coli. (There are hundreds of strains of E. coli: Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli causes the most cases of traveler's diarrhea.)

The classic examples of summertime food poisoning caused by bacteria result from time and temperature abuse — the undercooked burger taken off the barbecue too early, or the potato salad that's been left in the sun too long. Bacteria aren't the only problem. Other food-borne illnesses are caused by bacteria and viruses that are passed on unwashed hands.

This summer, take the following precautions:

  • Any meats, and especially ground meats, need to be cooked thoroughly enough so their juices run clear; even then, you should cook them for a few more minutes. Use a thermometer when cooking. Roasts and steaks should be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground meat, as in hamburger, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Fish should be cooked until it looks opaque and at least an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
  • When making summer salads, refrigerate them after preparation and keep them cold until you serve them. The sun and heat allow illness-causing bacteria in potato salads to proliferate; they can double in as little as seven to 20 minutes and make toxins that can cause food poisoning.

Safer Food Preparation

Make salads first. Many people want to prepare the meat for cooking before they start their salad, but uncooked beef, turkey and chicken are likely to be contaminated — and their juices can soil a cutting board used to prepare other foods.
Better: First prepare salads and other foods less likely to be contaminated with food-borne illness-causing bacteria and parasites.

Scrub your cutting board. It's common practice to run a cutting board under water.
Better: Scrub it with detergent or run it through the hot water cycle of your dishwasher after each use. Simply rinsing off the juices isn't enough to stop food-borne illness.

Clean with paper towels. People who wipe their counters repeatedly with the same cloth rag after they finish preparing a meal are asking for trouble.
Better: Do your cleanup with a paper towel that should be thrown away. If you want to use a cloth towel, place it in the washer after each use.


bacteria,food poisoning,diarrhea,e. coli
Last updated September 30, 2013

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