Ever been to a picnic or a party and wondered how long the dip or cold cuts platter has been out? If it isn’t on ice and kept cold, don’t eat it! Preventing food-borne illness (food safety) may not be on the top of your mind, but it is a serious issue for everyone. Seventy-six million people become sick from food-borne illnesses every year and five thousand people die from them.
Some people have a higher risk of food-borne illness, including those who are already weakened by another disease or treatment for a disease, pregnant women, infants, young children, and older adults. It can take a half-hour to six weeks to become sick from unsafe foods, and not everyone who eats the same food gets sick. Signs and symptoms of food-borne illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, upset stomach, and dehydration. There are four basic principles to avoiding food-borne illness: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
- Always wash hands with warm water and soap for twenty seconds before and after handling raw meat or poultry (chicken, turkey) and other foods.
- Clean food-contact surfaces, fruits, and vegetables.
- Use a 10 percent bleach solution to clean any cutting boards or surfaces that have been used for raw poultry or meat.
- Separate raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing, or storing foods. This prevents bacteria on one food from contaminating another food.
- Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and a separate one for fresh produce. Replace cutting boards if they become worn or develop grooves. It is harder to clean a board that has grooves where bacteria can hide.
- Never serve foods on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water.
- Cook foods to a safe temperature to kill microorganisms. The only way to know food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature is to use a food thermometer.
- Scrambled, poached, fried, and hard-cooked eggs are safe when cooked so both yolks and whites are firm, not runny.
- Reheat leftovers until a temperature of 165 degrees F is reached throughout the food.
- Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees F. The recommended temperatures for the freezer and refrigerator are 0 and 40 degrees F.
- Keep refrigerated foods cold. Refrigerate these foods promptly (e.g., milk and milk products, creams, dips, opened fruit juices, mayonnaise). The total time at room temperature should be less than two hours and only one hour in hot weather (above 90 degrees F).
- Defrost foods properly. The best way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator.
- When cooling foods, use a shallow container.
- Place very hot foods on a rack at room temperature for about twenty minutes before putting them in the refrigerator.
- It’s acceptable to refrigerate foods while they’re still warm. Just leave container cover slightly cracked until the food has cooled.
- Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods.
- Refrigerated leftovers may become unsafe within three to four days. When in doubt, toss it out.
EN and PN Safety
What about the safety of enteral and parenteral nutrition? These too can become contaminated. It is important to use care in storing, handling, and administering your feedings.
- Always wash your hands before handling tube feeding or parenteral nutrition.
- For enteral (EN) formulas, the hang time is based on the source of preparation. If you are using a sterile formula in an open system at home, it can hang for 12 hours. If it is a sterile formula in a closed system, it can hang for 24 to 48 hours, as long as the system is not violated.
- Parenteral nutrition (PN) solutions must be kept refrigerated. Take out and leave at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours prior to infusion. Never put your PN bag in a microwave or hot water bath. The PN bag can hang for 24 hours. If lipids are administered separately, the hang time for the lipid bag should not exceed 12 hours. If the lipids are admixed directly to the PN to form a total nutrient admixture (TNA or 3-in-1, where the lipids, amino acids, and dextrose are mixed together), the final PN formulation can be infused over a 24-hour period, since it provides a safe vehicle with respect to infectious risks.
Keeping your home PN or tube feeding safe by making sure you are careful with refrigeration and preparation is probably always on your mind. Take care of your “other” food, too, to keep you and your family safe. It is even more important to remember these rules when eating at outdoor events, buffets, and picnics. Have fun, be safe, and save us a bite!
For further information: CDC Foodborne Illness Frequently Asked Questions (PDF format)
This column has been compiled and reviewed by Laura Matarese, PhD, RD, LD, FADA, CNSC; Carol Ireton-Jones, PhD, RD, LD, CNSD, FACN; Cheryl Thompson, PhD, RD, CNSD; and Marion Winkler, PhD, RD, CNSC.
LifelineLetter, May/June 2011; Updated July 2014