food at homeThe Catalyst Online reports that the recent spinach-implicated E. coli outbreak has many people talking about food safety—as they should be. According to an article published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 76 million cases of foodborne illness and 5,000 foodborne illness-related deaths occur in the United States each year.

A food safety scare such as the E.coli outbreak often prompts people to practice higher levels of good food safety habits. This extreme level of diligence normally fades over time as the immediate threat diminishes, and things seemingly return to normal. This particular outbreak represents a food safety crisis that could occur at a nationwide level. However, the biggest threat of foodborne illness and food safety is probably much closer to home—in your own kitchen.

Some of the most common mistakes made in the home kitchen that are associated with food safety issues are:

  • Improper refrigeration and storage of foods
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Cross-contamination
  • Contaminated food sources
  • Undercooking foods

A few easy steps to take to reduce the risks of foodborne illness include:

Store foods at the proper temperature. Refrigerators should be kept below 40°F and freezers should be kept at or below 0°F. Keeping a thermometer inside of your refrigerator and freezer will ensure it is maintaining the correct temperature.

Practice good personal hygiene. Become familiar with proper hand-washing techniques. Wash hands thoroughly and often with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (or through two choruses of “Happy Birthday”). Always wash hands between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods. Effective hand-washing may be the single most important step to take in reducing the risks of foodborne illness.

Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate. One way to do this is to use two cutting boards— one for raw meat and one for ready-to-eat foods. Remember to use separate utensils when preparing and handling these foods.

Wash all raw produce. This includes bagged salad mixes that claim to be pre-washed/rinsed and ready-to-eat.

Cook food to proper temperatures. Always use a thermometer to determine if food is completely cooked. Keep a chart of the correct internal food temperatures on the refrigerator.