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5 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Pets In the Restaurant Cartoon

According to a report by the CDC, 48 million people in the United States get sick from foodborne illness each year. Many of these cases can be prevented if simple food safety practices are used.

Follow these 5 principles to help prevent foodborne illness:

1. Wash Your Hands

One of the most important personal hygiene habits can also prevent foodborne illness. Following these simple steps ensures that you are making the most of your handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands with warm water.
  2. Apply soap to your hands
  3. Wash and scrub for 20 seconds (this is about how long it takes to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star at normal speed).
  4. Rinse off the soap
  5. Dry your hands with an air dry or paper towel. If possible, turn off the faucet with a paper towel.

Frequent and thorough hand washing can help keep everyone safe. You should wash your hands:

    • Before handling food
    • After touching raw meat
    • After going to the bathroom or changing a diaper
    • Handling garbage
    • After sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose
  • Anytime you think your hands may be contaminated

Although it seems simple, washing your hands is the first line of defense in preventing foodborne illness. More information can be found here about proper hand washing techniques.

2. Properly Handle Raw Animal Products

Improperly handled animal products are a common source of foodborne illness. It’s important that you take proper steps to ensure these products are safe for consumption.

When preparing meat, do not rinse it under water. This can spread bacteria from the meat to other surfaces in your kitchen, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. If there is liquid from the packaging you would like to remove, you can pat it dry with a paper towel. Cross-contamination can increase those risks. Don’t allow these products to touch other surfaces or foods.

In addition, if you are thawing any frozen meat or poultry products, use proper thawing techniques to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. The FDA has approved several thawing techniques, including placing food in the refrigerator in advance, thawing food under cool, running water, and thawing in the food in the microwave. Never place food at room temperature for long periods of time because it will allow bacteria to grow and cause foodborne illness.

When cooking the products, use a meat thermometer to ensure you are cooking the product to the proper temperature. Follow the chart provided here to decrease the risk of foodborne illness in meat products.

3. Use Clean and Sanitized Utensils, Equipment, and Surfaces

Before preparing food, ensuring the surfaces and equipment food will touch are clean and sanitized can prevent spreading harmful bacteria in the food.

Cleaning involves removing food, dirt, and pathogens with soap and water. Sanitizing kills the bacteria once the utensils and equipment have been cleaned.

You should always start with a clean prep station and, after working for 4 continuous hours, you should clean and sanitize your station. That’s the amount of time that bacteria will grow to dangerous levels.

Avoiding cross contamination can also prevent the growth and spread of dangerous pathogens.

4. Use Food Before It Expires

There’s a common belief that, as long as there are no apparent signs of spoilage, expired foods are fine to eat. That isn’t necessarily the case.

Often times, pathogens will grow to dangerous levels even if we cannot see, smell, or taste them.

It is safest not to use food after the printed date has passed. Foods are at higher risk for going rancid or spoiling. No amount of cooking or other food preparation techniques can guarantee the food will be safe.

5. Keep Animals Away from Food and Food Preparation Areas

When it comes to carrying diseases, animals are some of the worst culprits. Chances are, you don’t bathe your dog or cat as regularly as yourself, and as such, they often carry more diseases.

Think of all the places your pet has been, the things that it could have collected in its fur, and all the surfaces their paws have touched. The diseases it could have come in contact with are not cleaned off as frequently, increasing the chances of it spreading.

Because of this, your pets should have limited contact with places food are prepared. Except in the case of service animals, often it is not safe for your pets to be in the kitchen, as they can also get burned, injured, or ingest something harmful. It’s safest for both you and your furry friend if they stay out of the kitchen.

It is also important to keep food service areas free of pests and rodents. They can carry many different diseases. Learning to recognize the signs of pests and eradicating them promptly can decrease the risk of spreading disease.

These are a few of the many ways that you can prevent foodborne illness. To find out more about food safety and for other tips, visit

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