Foodborne illness, while preventable, is extremely common here in the U.S. The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods each year, resulting in around 3,000 deaths. The biggest culprits of foodborne illness being salmonella, e. coli, listeria and campylobacter.
While some symptoms of foodborne illness can be relatively mild, there’s also a real risk of fatal consequences! So to help us all avoid making ourselves or our families sick, today I’ll be sharing 9 of the most common food safety mistakes people make with advice on avoiding them!
But before we get to those, let’s quickly define the food safety “danger zone.” This will be a common thread through many of the mistakes in this list, making it an important concept to understand!
- According to the USDA, the food temperature “danger zone” is between 40°F and 140°F.
- In this temperature range, bacteria can multiply rapidly, doubling in as little as 20 minutes!
- The USDA advises consuming or refrigerating cooked food within 2 hours, and throwing out any food that has been left out for over 2 hours.
- You should also use a fridge thermometer to ensure that the temperature inside your fridge stays at or below 40°F.
9 Common Food Safety Mistakes That Can Make You Sick
1. Thawing Meat On The Counter
Even if you’re in a hurry, it’s never a good idea to thaw meat by simply setting it out on the counter! It will quickly reach the danger zone where bacteria thrive, and it can quickly become unsafe to eat.
There are a few ways to thaw meat safely: in the fridge, in cold water, and in the microwave. Meat thawed in the fridge can be kept there for a day or two before cooking, while meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
However, the USDA did recently add thawing trays to their list of safe ways to thaw frozen food. Thawing trays can thaw food much faster at room temperature than without one, so most food is thawed well before the 2-hour requirement.
2. Putting Cooked Meat Back On The Same Plate
This food safety faux pas is particularly common at cookouts and barbecues! Someone will bring meat out to the grill on a plate or platter, then put the cooked meat back onto that same plate.
This is a big no-no because any plate that held raw meat can harbor bacteria until you wash it! Having one less plate to wash after dinner isn’t worth the risk of getting someone sick.
3. Rinsing Raw Meat
If you’re concerned about bacteria on your raw meat, all you have to do is cook it thoroughly! Rinsing or washing the meat before cooking it will only spread bacteria around your sink and kitchen.
4. Not Using A Thermometer
Different foods need to be cooked to different temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. And the only way to be sure you’re cooking something to the correct temperature is to use a thermometer!
5. Relying On Sight & Smell
While your senses are useful tools, you can’t rely on sight or smell to tell if your food has harmful bacteria. Harmful bacteria can exist without affecting the it’s appearance and smell at all!
A more reliable way to determine food safety is by how long you’ve had it. Most raw meats should be cooked and eaten within 2-5 days, and most leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days.
6. Not Washing Your Hands Enough
One of the most effective ways to prevent foodborne illness is also one of the easiest: washing your hands! Wash your hands with warm, soapy water often when you’re preparing and cooking food.
7. Cooling Leftovers Before Refrigerating
People often wait until their food has cooled completely before refrigerating leftovers. But this can put your food in the danger zone where bacteria can multiply.
Most leftovers can be refrigerated promptly, unless it is something particularly large and hot, like a big roast or a pot of soup. In these cases, you’ll want to split the food into several smaller containers before refrigerating.
8. Unsafe Fridge Practices
When it comes to storing food in your fridge, it’s important to consider where you’re placing things. Foods that need to be cooked in order to be safe should be stored on the bottom shelf of your fridge to avoid contamination.
Food that is already cooked or doesn’t require cooking should go on the upper shelves. And avoid storing milk or eggs in the refrigerator door, since this tends to be the warmest part of the fridge.
9. Not Washing Produce With Peels
While you may be diligent about washing your leafy greens and produce with edible peels, it’s equally important to wash produce without edible peels!
Unwashed produce may harbor bacteria on the outside. If you don’t wash it, the knife you use to cut it can transfer bacteria from the outer peel to the edible insides.
Have you ever been affected by a foodborne illness?