Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, hugging the toilet, calling dinosaurs, bowing down to the porcelain god, horking, yakking, upchucking, the trots, dry heaves, retching…
The aforementioned grossness is a fairly comprehensive list of symptoms, and synonyms for symptoms, associated with foodborne illness. Now, I don’t know about you, but all of that sounds like a whole lotta no fun to me. It sounds like something that I simply do not need in my life – like, ever.
I don’t throw the word hate out there very often, but I HATE puking. And, I certainly do not enjoy cleaning up after pukey kids. So, as a person who heartily dislikes puke – I am inclined to prevent the pukes at all costs. The good news is that unlike a lot of other ailments, illness of the foodborne variety is totally preventable.
You know what else? It’s totally something YOU can control. True story.
And, what’s more is that saving yourself the pain and gut-ache of foodborne illness is easy, doable, and not that costly. The following will go a long way to keep you and your family (or anyone else you happen to be cooking for) from the living nightmare that is foodborne illness.
5 Simple Steps To Preventing Foodborne Illness
Buy your beef (and other fresh meats) last.
Beef, and all other fresh meats, should be THE last thing you grab before heading for the checkout. It’s a good idea to memorize the general layout of your local grocery store so that when you re-write your grocery list organizing it in order of where everything is in the store…
Oh, wait – you don’t do that? Okay. Maybe that’s only me then. But, really – you should start at the other end of the store and shop your way to the meat case.
HOT TIP: Once you’ve made your way to the meat case, no matter which cut of beef you settle on, choose packages that have their integrity is intact, a.k.a. no holes or tears. Pick bright-cherry-red (unless its vacuum-packed), firm-to-the-touch packages of beef. And, pay attention to those sell-by dates – only purchase beef on, or prior to, that date.
When you’ve picked the perfect package, the one that meats (see what I did there?) all the criteria, keep it separate from your other groceries. DO NOT – I repeat, do not place beef, or any other fresh meats, on top of any other groceries in your cart.
Keeping your beef “chill” will help discourage unruly bacteria growth. So, if it’s going to be longer than 30 minutes between grocery store checkout and your fridge or freezer, pack a cooler with ice packs. Put your beef in said cooler until you get home. And, once you’re home, get that beef in the fridge or freezer immediately – separate from your produce and/or any other ready-to-eat foods.
Thaw your meat in the refrigerator, microwave, or cool water bath – only.
Never thaw your meat on the counter – ever. That’s basically an invitation for those nasty little foodborne illness causing bugs to party all over your counter. And, those nasty little bugs will invite their friends. And, lots of them. Seriously. Meat left in the “danger zone” (temperatures ranging between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) is prone to bacteria growth of more than double in a mere 20 minutes. Anywho…
That little pathogen party leaves you vulnerable to illness and all of the symptoms that go along with it. If you’ve already forgotten what those symptoms are, please revert back to the very first paragraph of this post.
Moral of the story – keep your meat off the counter. Thaw it in the refrigerator, microwave, or a cool water bath.
Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat.
“Germs, germs go away. Don’t come back any day. Bubbles and soap let’s wash away. Germs, germs go away.”
At the risk of sounding too “mom” here, you really do need be channeling your inner Daniel Tiger with frequent, hot soapy water hand-washing any time you are prepping food. And most especially, when your food prep involves raw meat.
Wash cutting boards and plates after having been in contact with raw meat.
The same Daniel Tiger-esque rule applies to your cutting boards, plates, knives and any other utensils you use to prep your food. Utensils need to be washed any time you switch from raw meat to veg.
For example, if you are cutting up steak for a delicious beef and broccoli stir-fry – wash the darned cutting board and knife before using them again to chop your broccoli.
Cook beef (and other meats) to appropriate internal temperatures.
As I wrote in The Rare Confusion…
Not all cuts of beef are created equal. Cuts such as steaks and roasts are whole-muscle cuts. Whole-muscle cuts are those in which the muscle is kept intact, not having been scored (for marinating), tenderized, or ground in any way. The intact nature of these cuts keeps any bacteria that may be present isolated to the surface of the meat.
Because the bacteria are not present on the inside of steaks and roasts, they are safe to eat once at varying degrees of doneness, as long as the outside surface was allowed to reach the bacteria-killing temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Burgers, on the other hand, are made from whole-muscle cuts that have been ground. The grinding process brings the outside surface, and any illness causing bacteria, in. This means that burgers, and other ground or tenderized cuts, must reach that safe and savory target of 160 degrees throughout.
HOT TIP: Do not rely on color to gauge degree of doneness. Degree of doneness is something that can only be determined by temperature. And, temperature can only be determined using a meat thermometer – use a meat thermometer.
The truth is, you don’t have to be as extreme as me – the self-proclaimed food safety enthusiast who struggles to drink milk beyond the best-by date and writes letters to Martha Stewart on account of her food safety OCD. I mean, you can if you want to – but, protecting yourself from the pain and gut-ache of foodborne illness really is as simple as the steps above.