Preventing Foodborne Illnesses this Summer
With the beginning of summer, many people think they can just keep their picnic food safe from bacteria by storing it in the refrigerator. But, there is one bacteria- that is exempt from that rule…
Unlike most food bacteria, Listeria can grow in cool temperatures. Refrigerating food already contaminated with these bacteria could allow the germs to multiply and spread, according to the USDA.
The bacteria can cause serious illness known as listeriosis, which is especially dangerous for children, older people, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. Foods in which Listeria has been found include deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared salads. The FDA advises those at greater risk for developing listeriosis to reheat these ready-to-eat foods until they are steaming hot. They should also avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses.
Listeriosis has also been linked to contaminated cantaloupes. The FDA recommended washing all fruits and vegetables under running water immediately before eating, cutting or cooking them. Firm produce, in particular, should be scrubbed with a produce brush. Examples like this, is specifically important in the summer when fruits are in season.
Other ways to prevent Listeria infection include:
– Set your refrigerator temperature to 40 degrees F or lower to slow the growth of Listeria. Use a refrigerator and freezer thermometer to make sure temperatures are appropriately cold.
– Wrap or cover food before placing it in the refrigerator. Be sure no containers or covers are leaking juices on other foods.
– Do not allow cooked or ready-to-eat (RTE) foods to sit in the refrigerator. Eat these foods right away so Listeria doesn’t have the opportunity to grow. If you have leftovers in your refrigerator, it’s best to throw them out after 3 days, just to be sure. Because remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
– Clean up refrigerator spills immediately. The FDA notes leaks or spills from hot dog packages, raw meat or poultry are mostly of concern. The agency advised cleaning these spills with paper towels to avoid spreading germs to a cloth towel.
– Routinely disinfect the refrigerator. Cleaning the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator with warm water and soap. Surface cleaners can also be used monthly.
– Sanitize kitchen surfaces where food is prepared with soap and water and surface cleaner.
– Wash cutting boards after every use. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards can be sanitized in the dishwasher.
– Wash dish cloths, towels and cloth grocery bags in the hot cycle of the washing machine.
– Before and after handling food, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds! And if you can’t remember how long- just sing the “Happy Birthday” song. This is a trick we educate children on for food safety and hand washing!