It might take more time or seem overly cautious, but food safety habits make a difference.
As the Netflix documentary, Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food showed, staying alert to food safety practices can be life-saving.
The filmmakers uncover realities like how many foods in the United States contain bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, as well as toxic waste that can make people sick and, in some cases, result in death.2
The Federal government estimates that there are about?48 million cases of foodborne illness annually, which means about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food each year. These illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.1
“While the responsibility for food safety should not rest solely on the shoulders of consumers, we must play a role in food safety at home,” Darin Detwiler, PhD, an associate teaching professor at Northeastern University?College of?Professional Studies, told Health.
He provided the example of telling children to look both ways before crossing the street because while a threat may not be right in front of you, you understand that it’s best to be cautious before it’s too late.
“Food safety is no different,” he said.
Detwiler lost his 16-month-old son Riley from E.?coli poisoning in a contaminated hamburger he ate at a restaurant. His story and life’s work in the food safety industry are documented in Poisoned.
“Far too many families…find themselves living with a chair forever empty at the dinner table due to mostly preventable failures in food safety,” Detwiler said. “Not all incidents take place outside of the home.”
Here’s advice Detwiler and other food experts practically apply to their own lives every day.
Because a lot of food safety problems are due to manufacturers’ errors or sloppiness, it’s important to be as safe as possible at home, said Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, author and visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell.
She always:
Nestle doesn’t buy bean sprouts, cut-bagged vegetables, or salads.
Over the past 30 years of outbreaks of foodborne illness, Detwiler said the ones that impacted or killed the most people involved bagged lettuce, sprouts, cantaloupe, undercooked meats, recalled foods, and anything that smells or looks off.
In other words, it’s best to opt for chopping your own veggies at home.
Devin Alexander, celebrity chef and New York Times bestselling author, does not let her daughter eat cookie dough with raw eggs in it. Similarly, Caesar salad, which traditionally has raw egg in it, is off-limits.
“Though I do admit that I might nibble on a tiny bit myself. I think kiddos stomachs are weaker and I couldn’t live with myself if harm ever came to her for a ‘stupid’ thing like that,” she said.
Cross-contamination is not to be played with. Detwiler advises people to never use the same plate they put raw meats on to place cooked meats onto unless they thoroughly wash the plate in between uses.
Alexander?said she would never cut chicken or shrimp or other seafood or pork “and then use the knife I cut with to cut other foods until it was washed with soap and run under extremely hot water.”
Similarly, don’t reuse the surface you’re cutting ingredients on either–it’s best to just get a new cutting board or give the one you’ve been using a thorough wash.
Rather than letting frozen defrost on the counter, Detwiler said to always defrost in the refrigerator.
This ensures you “avoid letting foods get into The Danger Zone (between 40degF and 140degF where pathogens grow in numbers),” he said.
Additionally, he said don’t keep perishable foods out of the refrigerator or away from heat for more than two hours (or one hour if exposed to temperatures above 90degF).
Never wash chicken off in the sink, said Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, dietitian and author.

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