Food-Associated Illness

Was it something I ate?


Food-associated illness ("food poisoning") is a common cause of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Though very unpleasant, these illnesses usually resolve in a few days, without treatment.

Many people assume that it was the last thing they ate prior to feeling ill, that caused their symptoms. This is usually not the case. Different organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.) have different incubation periods. The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to occur after having contact with a disease-causing germ. You might become sick today from something you ate last week!

Another assumption people make is that restaurants are usually to blame for "food poisoning." This also is not true. Most isolated cases of foodborne illness are thought to originate at home. Even so, don't be afraid to send undercooked foods back to the kitchen when you eat out. If you suspect you have become ill after eating out, notify the restaurant manager right away. Managers must report these complaints to the health department. You can also call your local health department directly.

Food-Associated Pathogens


According to the CDC, about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick every year from something they've eaten. There are many different germs (bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc.) that can get into the food supply and cause illness. Two of the most common are Salmonella and Campylobacter. These bacteria are often present in farm animals, especially poultry. Thankfully, adequate cooking kills both salmonella, campylobacter, and most other food-associated pathogens.

Preventing Illness at Home


Not all food-associated illnesses can be avoided but careful food handling will decrease your risk of getting sick in your own kitchen. Here are some tips.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 15-20 seconds before and after handling foods.
    • Beware the faucet handle! If you turn it on with dirty hands, the germs will remain until the surface is cleaned. Try turning it off with a paper towel
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water. Use a brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Use care if you rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Some experts discourage this practice because juices from these items can be spread around the sink area.
  • Be aware that sponges and dishcloths are easily contaminated and may be hard to clean. Disposable paper towels may be a safer alternative.
Don't cross me!
Avoid cross-contamination.
  • Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that are eaten raw; in your shopping cart, in your refrigerator and during food preparation.
  • Use one cutting board for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another for those that are eaten raw (fruits and vegetables).
  • Don't put cooked foods back on the unwashed plate that held them prior to cooking.
  • Once meat is thoroughly cooked and ready to serve, don't brush on more marinade unless it is fresh and has not been used on raw or partially cooked meat.
Turn up the heat!
Heating foods adequately kills germs that can make you sick.
  • Use a meat thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Do not eat raw eggs in any form.
    • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.
    • Use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites in recipes that call for raw eggs.
    • Don't eat uncooked cookie dough or cake batter.
Chill out!
Cooling and storing foods correctly prevents germs from growing.
  • Refrigerate cooked foods within two hours.
  • Keep your refrigerator at or below 40ºF; freezer at or below 0ºF.
    • Use an appliance thermometer to occasionally check the temperature.
  • Don't defrost at room temperature. Use the refrigerator, cold running water, or the microwave.
  • Cook thawed foods immediately.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Don't taste food for freshness.
  • Use left overs within three to four days.
What about stuffing?
Many people like to stuff their poultry before cooking, particularly around the holidays. Here are some tips.
  • Check stuffing temperature. Whether cooked inside or outside the bird, stuffing must reach a minimum temperature of 1650 F.
  • Many experts believe cooking stuffing in a casserole, rather than the bird is safer.
  • Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before putting it in the oven.
  • Stuff the turkey, loosely.
  • Above all resist the urge to pop a little uncooked stuffing in your mouth while you are in the process of stuffing the bird!

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Chicken Being Cut
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