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10 Tips to Avoid Foodborne Illness

October 7, 2011

It is a sorry state of affairs when food contamination has become a regular feature in the news cycle. From tomatoes to spinach to E. coli to Salmonella, the particulars vary, but the take-away is the same: there is something wrong with our food production system.

This time, it's cantaloupes contaminated with listeria. The outbreak of this foodborne illness, linked to a contaminated batch of melons from Colorado a few weeks ago, has already been blamed for the deaths of 18 people. More than 100 have fallen sick, and new cases are still being reported. While most of the contaminated cantaloupes should be out of the food supply by now, the symptoms of listeria can take up to one month to appear after infection, so if you think you may have been exposed, see a doctor as soon as possible.


We urge you to check and double check your cantaloupes to be sure they were grown outside of Colorado. The FDA has also recalled precut fruit salads from Fruit Fresh Up, Inc., so be very careful or perhaps just avoid cantaloupe altogether for a while.

In the meantime, here are ten things to remember to help keep you and your family safe from foodborne illnesses:

1. Wash. This is the obvious one, but also vitally important. Wash your hands, the counters, and your utensils often and with warm water. Especially take care to wash the microwave. The food particles that collect inside are magnets for bacteria.

2. Keep raw meats separate. Most people know to use a different knife and cutting board when preparing raw meat alongside veggies. Cross-contamination can also happen in your shopping cart at the grocery, though. Place packages of wrapped raw meats in an additional plastic produce bag to keep it separate from fresh foods. If you have reusable shopping bags, be sure to wash them often. 

3. Rinse all your fruits and veggies even if it has a rind or peel!Although you won't eat the outside, your knife can carry bacteria into the edible part of the food when you cut into it.

4. Use a meat thermometer. Cook ground meats to 160°F. Cook beef, veal and lamb to 145°F and pork to 145°F. For poultry, cook breasts to 170°F and thighs to 180°F. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

5. Boil your marinade before you re-use it in a dish.

6. Do not leave cut produce or any meat (cooked or uncooked) at room temperature for more than 2 hours. The bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses grow rapidly.

7. Do not keep leftovers (meat or vegetable) more than 4 days.

8. At the grocery, buy your cold foods last and get them in the refrigerator as soon as possible.

9. Be sure your refrigerator's temperature is uniformly between 34°F and 40°F, even in the door shelves. If your refrigerator's temperature varies from shelf to shelf, store only non-perishables in the warmer areas.

10. When in doubt, toss it. Would you play Russian Roulette?