Written by Olivia Barrera

Cooking for friends and family is an act of love. It is a tangible way to nurture those we care about. However, preparing food for others comes with great responsibility. We want to practice food safety to ensure we aren’t putting our loved ones at risk. The following information comes from an international accreditation course designed for food service industry workers and managers. The principles have been modified to meet the needs of home cooks and only that relevant information has been included.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600 million people (almost 1 in 10) get sick with foodborne illness each year. This results in 420,000 deaths every year.

Populations with the highest risk for foodborne illness are preschool-aged children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems (this includes individuals undergoing chemotherapy, those living with chronic illnesses like HIV/ AIDS, and people who have recently had a transplant or surgery).

Major Foodborne Viruses

The viruses most commonly passed though contaminated food are Hepatitis A and Norovirus. Symptoms of Hepatitis A are fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, and jaundice. Norovirus symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, fever, body aches, and head ache.

Both can be prevented with proper hand washing. In fact, hand washing is the single most important way to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Make it a habit to scrub your hands vigorously with soap for at least 10 seconds. Wash before preparing food and, if you stop to check your phone; touch your face, hair, or clothes; or pause to multitask, wash your hands again before returning to cooking.

Photo by CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Foodborne Illness-Causing Bacteria:

E. coli, Salmonella typhi, nontyphoidal Salmonella, and Shigella spp. are the most common illness-causing bacteria spread through food. Common symptoms of these illnesses are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever.

The most important way to prevent bacteria from causing a foodborne illness is to control the temperature of the food. The unsafe range of temperature for food is called the Temperature Danger Zone. This ranges from 41° to 135° with bacteria multiplying most rapidly at 70° to 125° making that range the most unsafe. To check a food’s internal temperature, use a food thermometer and insert the thermometer to the thickest part of the food. Measure twice to be extra safe. Use the table below to find safe internal temperatures for different types of foods.

food temp table.JPG
Photo by USDA – FSIS

Remember temperature control while thawing food. We want to keep our food out of the temperature danger zone during prolonged thawing.

  • Never thaw food by simply taking it out of the fridge. Thaw food:
    • In a dish in the fridge
    • Under cold running water (water should be 70° or lower)
    • Submerged in a bowl of cold water, changing water frequently
    • In the microwave (always fully cook immediately after using this method)

Also consider time and temperature control when cooling cooked foods. The recommendation is to get food into the fridge within 2 hours after cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within one hour if it is 90 degrees or hotter outside. Large quantities of food (like a pot of soup or chili) and large cuts of meat should be portioned into smaller sizes to ensure cooling is even and the food doesn’t remain in the danger zone too long. Your refrigerator should be kept at 40° and your freezer at 0° F.

Another important consideration when cooking for others is food allergies. Symptoms of allergic reactions include hives, swelling, nausea, itchy rash, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and vomiting.

The most common food allergens, also know as the Big 8 Allergens, are: milk, soy, wheat, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.).

Photo by FDA – U.S. Food and Drug Administration

To prevent allergic reactions from happening in your kitchen, read food labels (producers are required by the FDA to list if a food contains one of the big 8 on the package) and avoid cross-contact. Meaning, if you know someone you will be preparing food for has an allergy, make sure to clean and sanitize cutting boards and utensils if anything that has touched the allergen will be used to prepare their food. Better yet, use separate clean utensils or prepare their food first.

While cross-contact concerns the unintentional spread of food allergens, cross-contamination is that of foodborne illness-causing bacteria and viruses.

How can you prevent cross-contamination?

  • Use separate equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food (cutting boards, utensils, and containers for raw meat, raw poultry, and produce), many people and businesses use different color cutting boards for each type of food for an extra layer of protection.
  • Clean and sanitize cutting boards, utensils, and hands before and after tasks.
  • Prep produce before prepping raw food to be safest and clean and sanitize between.

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