By Mariam N. Contributing author and a cleaning expert
About 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Symptoms can sometimes be severe and often require hospitalization.
Anyone can get sick from eating contaminated food and it can happen whether you’re at home and preparing your own food or eating out. But the risk is especially higher when eating out.
According to studies, eating food prepared in restaurants increases one’s risk of infection. With at least one in four Americans eating fast food every day, learning about ways to avoid foodborne illness is crucial.
Check out these tips:
Check Inspection Scores
All restaurants are subject to a health inspection and the results are made available to the public right after. In most states and countries, restaurants are graded using a 90-100 point system while in other places, they use a letter-grade system.
It’s important to understand what those letter grades or number scores mean. More important than that are the violations that a restaurant commits which led to their score. You can always ask your local health department for a copy of the inspection results or check those on the CDC website.
Ensure the Restaurant Follows Safe Food-Handling Practices
Prevention of foodborne illness starts with safe food handling. When eating out, do check whether your favorite restaurant is following the safety guidelines provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These include the following:
- Workers and food servers must observe the proper hand-washing procedure.
- Servers and other employees apart from the kitchen staff should not be allowed inside the food preparation area.
- Cooked food and sanitized surfaces should be put away from dirty surfaces and raw food (meat, fish, etc.).
- Workers should use gloves when preparing food.
- Staff should observe proper restaurant cleaning procedures all the time.
Choose Food That’s Properly Cooked
When eating out, check if the food served to you is thoroughly cooked. Uncooked or undercooked meat and fish is a major cause of foodborne illness. Cooking or heating food at 72°C (the least) can kill most of the disease-causing microbes.
What about the raw or rare meat or fish we love to eat like steak or sushi? Fortunately, large cuts of beef or lamb can be eaten rare or pink because they are unlikely to have bacteria in the center. It’s important to have the outer surface of the meat seared though to kill the microbes. Sushi is safe to eat as well but it should be prepared by well-trained staff and sushi chefs. Note that raw fish can harbor parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
Avoid Food Served Lukewarmly
Inadequate reheating is the fourth major cause of foodborne illness. If the food served to you is no longer hot, ask the server to replace it. Chances are, it has been sitting on the counter for quite some time now. To kill microorganisms, food must be cooked at a sufficient temperature for a sufficient period of time. However, if the food is not consumed immediately, bacteria starts to grow back (note that harmful bacteria can grow rapidly below 140°F).
Many restaurants prepare the items on their menu in advance. In such a case, the food travels through the ‘danger zone’ when it is cooled again and reheated. The food must be reheated evenly. If using the microwave, it should be rotated at least once. If reheating over the stovetop, it must be cooked for 15 seconds at 165F for at least 15 seconds.
Know the Temperature Danger Zone
One of the major factors in proper food handling and preparation is temperature. At 140°F, most disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses are destroyed. As a rule of thumb, food should be kept above this temperature prior to serving and consumption.
Food served anywhere from 40°F and 140°F is said to be in the ‘danger zone’. At this point, bacteria grows and multiplies rapidly. Note, however, that different types of food require different temperatures to be considered safe. For example, poultry products should be cooked or reheated at 165°F for at least 15 seconds while pork should have an inner temperature of 145° F to be considered safe.
Food to Pay Great Attention
When dining out, choose items on the menu that are thoroughly cooked. If you’re eating at a certain restaurant for the first time, avoid ordering fresh or raw meals, including vegetable salads. Recently, there have been foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. and Europe because of contaminated lettuce.
Other foods to pay great attention to are raw fish (sushi or sashimi). Unless you’re eating at a famous Japanese restaurant known for serving high-quality raw fish, it’s better to skip this item on the menu.
Pay Attention to Cleanliness
One way to tell whether a restaurant is following food safety practices is by looking at how clean it is. Are the tables kept clean at all times? How about the floors? Are the food trays, silverware, and utensils free from grime and dirt? Do they have an area where you can wash hands and sanitize silverware?
If the restaurant is following a daily cleaning regimen, that should include servers wiping down tables, chairs, and even menus with disinfectants. By keeping everything clean that comes in contact with food, consumers can be assured that they are protected from foodborne illness.
Don’t forget to check the restrooms. Not only is it indicative of the restaurant’s commitment to cleanliness, but it’s also crucial for preventing food contamination.
Be Careful With Food Takeaways
Takeaways are often a life-saver, especially for busy parents who don’t have time to prepare food for their family. However, if buying takeaways, make sure to serve and eat your food within two hours from the time you pick it up. If not eating immediately, put it in the fridge and then reheat before serving. Everything should stay hot, including the side dishes.
If buying cold foods, such as deli meat, buy them at the end of your shopping trip. If you think you will be stuck in traffic or it will take you more than 30 minutes to reach home, put cold food in a cooler with ice. Deli meats should be kept cold and refrigerated for 3-5 days. More sensitive cuts like turkey and rare roast beef can last for 2-4 days.
Eating out doesn’t just make our life easier. It has also become part of our way of life. However, for an enjoyable and satisfying dining experience, you need to make sure that the food being served to you is clean, steaming, and free from harmful bacteria. Always keep in mind the tips mentioned above to stay safe from foodborne illness.
Mariam N. is a cleaning expert working with Sono Supplies. She has been interested in health and cleaning issues since she was young and wants to share her knowledge and experience with others who are not indifferent to cleanup. Mariam is deeply convinced that house cleaning is a critical part of hygiene. On a regular basis, she delivers new cleaning expert advice on how to treat products, tools, different items, which sometimes include medical instruments and equipment as well.
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