According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year in that country about 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses, according to Today.com.
Contamination can occur at any point along the food production chain, which is often out of the consumer’s control, but people also make simple mistakes when cooking and storing food, which increase the risk of poisoning, says Dr. Robert Gravani, food safety expert and professor at Cornell University.
In an interview for that American program and website, he reveals what the most common mistakes are.
1. Skipping hand washing before eating or preparing food
Many people forget to wash their hands, which are full of germs and can contaminate otherwise safe food. That’s why you should always wash your hands before eating or cooking, and especially after using the bathroom. The best way is to wash thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You should also wash your hands several times during and after preparing food, especially raw meat.
2. Washing raw poultry in the sink before cooking
Gravani says you shouldn’t rinse raw chicken pieces and explains that most raw poultry contains bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter and clostridia, which are fortunately destroyed by cooking at the right temperature.
When you rinse raw meat, the water can spread these bacteria to the sink, faucets, countertops, utensils, and other surfaces where they can easily contaminate other foods.
3. Avoiding washing raw fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables must be washed with clean running water and dried with a paper towel. A vegetable brush should be used for fruits with a rougher skin, such as melon. Never use soap or detergent.
4. Using the same utensil from start to finish while cooking meat
Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of using the same utensils from start to finish of cooking, Gravani claims. He explains that a fork or spoon that has touched raw meat can transfer bacteria and re-contaminate prepared and thermally processed food in which those bacteria have been destroyed. He recommends using new utensils during food preparation, or washing them thoroughly after touching raw meat.
5. Taking spices when handling raw meat
When preparing raw food or meat, you often reach for a container with spices, and those containers can be multiply contaminated by the raw meat you touched previously.
Gravani advises that before preparing food, separate the appropriate amount of spices to be used in a small container, or wash your hands thoroughly every time before reaching for the container with spices.
6. Adequate temperature determination and not using a meat thermometer
Thoroughly cooking raw meat or seafood and using a quality thermometer are key to killing any microorganisms that cause foodborne illness, says this food safety expert, adding that it’s not enough to definitively tell if a food is cooked just by looking at its color and texture.
What determines whether food is adequately cooked is its temperature. According to American recommendations, it is necessary for beef to be around 63 degrees Celsius, similar to fish, while for poultry it is necessary for the temperature to be 74 degrees, and for eggs 71 degrees.
7. Waiting longer than two hours to put the prepared food in the refrigerator
People have a habit, especially during the holidays, of keeping prepared food out of the refrigerator for a long time. It is recommended to put the prepared food in the refrigerator within two hours at the latest, and if the temperature outside is more than 30 degrees, you should not wait longer than one hour.
8. Eating food that has been in the refrigerator for more than four days
One cannot know whether a food is safe by its smell or appearance, emphasizes Gravani. It is recommended that prepared food can be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of three to four days, and in the freezer for three to four months. If it stays longer than that, it is better to throw it away, because the risk increases that the concentration of bacteria and toxins in it will exceed a safe level.
Of course, we are not all the same. Someone is more sensitive and more susceptible to the risks of food poisoning, someone less so and can easily enjoy raw oysters, sushi and other delicacies, but it is important that everyone is aware when the risk exists.