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Food safety

Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses.

Function

Food can be contaminated in many different ways. Some food products may already contain bacteria or parasites. The germs can be spread during the packaging process if the food products are not handled properly. Failure to cook or store the food properly can cause further contamination.

Properly handling and preparing food greatly reduces the risks of getting foodborne illnesses.

Food Sources

All foods can become contaminated. Higher risk foods include red meats, poultry, eggs, cheese, dairy products, raw sprouts, and raw fish or shellfish.

Side Effects

Poor food handling and inadequate food safety can cause infection (foodborne illness). Symptoms of foodborne illness vary, but usually include stomach problems. Foodborne illness may be severe and life-threatening, especially in young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Recommendations

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling any food.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Wash your hands after touching animals.
  • Wash all cutting boards and utensils with hot water and soap after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next food item.
  • Wear gloves or avoid preparing food if your hands have any cuts or sores.
  • Avoid cross-contaminating food items -- separate meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods and always wash your hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they come into contact with these products.
  • Cook to proper temperatures. Cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm. Fish should be opaque and flake easily. Red meats and poultry should reach an internal temperature of 160 and 180 degrees, respectively. Leftovers must be reheated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Refrigerate promptly -- some items such as meat and poultry must be frozen if they are not used within 1 - 2 days. Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours. Keep frozen foods in the freezer until they are ready to be thawed and cooked.
  • Foods can also be contaminated before they are purchased. Watch for and do not use outdated food, packaged food with a broken seal, and cans that have a bulge. Do not use foods that have an unusual odor or a spoiled taste.
  • Prepare home-canned foods in clean conditions and very carefully. Home-canned food is the most common cause of botulism.

Alternative Names

Food - hygiene and sanitation

References

Medeiros LC, Hillers VN, Chen G, Bergmann V, Kendall P, Schroeder M. Design and development of food safety knowledge and attitude scales for consumer food safety education. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104(11):1671-1677.

Anderson JB, Shuster TA, Hansen KE, Levy AS, Volk A. A camera's view of consumer food-handling behaviors. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104(2):186-191.

Redmond EC, Griffith CJ. Consumer food handling in the home: a review of food safety studies. J Food Prot. 2003;66(1):130-161.

Update Date: 6/8/2012

Updated by: Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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