Kitchen Tips: How to prevent food poisoning

WATCH ABOVE: Hand washing, proper food storage and avoiding cross contamination are some of the tips you should know about preventing foodborne illness. Dr. Samir Gupta has the story in this week’s On Call.

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TORONTO — With all this fuss about the new City of Toronto “GastroBusters” website for anonymous restaurant food poisoning reporting, I thought it was a good time to talk about how to prevent foodborne illnesses.

More and more of us are cooking at home nowadays, and there are some basic principles that can help to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses acquired through food storage and handling (aside from all the advice you often hear about how to properly cook your food).

The first principle is simply washing your hands; before you handle any food, wash your hands thoroughly. That means for at least 20 seconds, with soap and running water.

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Make sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

One common error is that people often handle their cellphone in the middle of the cooking process, and don’t re-wash their hands.

Several studies that have identified numerous pathogenic bacteria (bacteria which are dangerous to humans) on cellphones, which have been shown to actually spread these infections.

Next, food storage cannot be overlooked.

When you get home from the grocery store, make sure that anything perishable is placed in the fridge within an hour.

However, you must also be careful about how you place things in the fridge. The common theme here is preventing cross-contamination.

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In other words, at every stage in your process, think about how you can avoid contaminating your cooked food or raw food with bacteria from the uncooked meat.

This means placing cooked or raw food above uncooked meats to prevent meat drippings from contaminating that food, and keeping all uncooked meats and fish in plastic bags.  You should also check to make sure that the fridge is cold enough.

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The fridge temperature should be between 0-4 C to slow bacterial growth, and the freezer temperature 0 C or lower. You can use a digital thermometer to verify this.

Next, when you get ready to cut your raw meat, be very careful about the cutting board.

Once you’ve cut that meat on the cutting board, the pathogens from that meat have contaminated it.

This includes common causes of food poisoning such as E. Coli from beef, Salmonella from chicken, and Norwalk virus from shellfish.

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Therefore, you can’t reuse it for other foods.

Even washing it with soap and water isn’t enough — you need to run it through the dishwasher in order to sanitize it.

Similarly, if you are manipulating your raw meat with your grilling tongs, those tongs will be contaminated.

In other words, they have to stay with the barbecue, and should not be used to handle other food that will not be cooked.

Lastly, some people focus on the meats, and don’t worry about fruits.

But there are certain fruits that have been associated with infectious outbreaks.

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Cantaloupes in particular were responsible for a major US salmonella outbreak in 2012, causing 261 illnesses and 94 hospitalizations.

Unlike watermelon or honeydew, cantaloupes’ bumpy skin allows for plenty of places for bacteria to grow, and these bacteria can’t be completely removed with washing.

Once you slice the cantaloupe, those bacteria can spread to the edible part.

The key is to eat the fruit right away after slicing, and refrigerate any uneaten slices right away.

Also, avoid any pre-sliced cantaloupe in the supermarket that hasn’t been refrigerated (including the saran-wrapped half melons).

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