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Food safety for college coeds

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Smart shopping can be the first step to food safety. Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

If the task of shopping and preparing meals seems daunting, here are some ideas on how to stay safe from foodborne bacteria when buying, storing, and preparing meals.

In the article, Food Safety: What You Should Know?, Sandesh Adhikari, MPH, explained how practicing food safety can reduce the risk of getting sick from food-borne illnesses if care is taken with storage, preparation, and consumption.

Statistics show that students attending college are at risk for food poisoning. Knowing how to buy, store and prepare food, as well as clean the cooking area, can prevent food poisoning and other illnesses.

There are two main types of bacteria to watch out for. Salmonella, found in all types of poultry and eggs, can cause extreme illness and is the biggest culprit. E.coli is mostly found in vegetables and meat. These foodborne bacteria can cause abdominal cramping, fever, vomiting, and even death in more severe cases. If these types of symptoms persist, check with a medical professional.

When shopping, remember to check the expiration dates. Make sure packaging on poultry and meat is free from tears or leaks. Avoid vegetables and fruits that are bruised. Separate produce from meats and poultry in the grocery cart to avoid cross-contamination. Avoid leaving groceries in the car or warm areas. Refrigerate perishables and put frozen foods in the freezer as soon as possible.

Cold storage guidelines. Graphic by Andrea Bateman

After buying fresh produce, keep in mind that most vegetables should only be stored for two or three days. Discard the thin plastic bags before refrigerating to prolong freshness. Potatoes and onions can be stored in the kitchen away from direct sunlight and do not require refrigeration. If any fruits or vegetables have been exposed to seafood, meat, or poultry, discard them.

Canned foods should be stored in a dry, cool location. Do not use cans with leaks, rust, or dents. Canned food can have a botulinum toxin, which can be fatal.

Eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for four or five weeks. Eggs should not be placed in the refrigerator door, but rather in the main compartment. Avoid eggs if there is a sulfur odor, or if the white of the egg looks clear and runny. Due to salmonella and other bacteria, eggs should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

Raw meat, poultry, or seafood should be cooked or frozen the same day as it is purchased. Poultry is especially prone to salmonella bacteria. 

Keeping food preparation areas clean can prevent cross-contamination. This can happen when harmful bacteria, viruses, or allergens are transferred from raw food to other foods. Using unsanitized utensils, unwashed hands, or kitchen surfaces that have not been cleaned properly can also cause cross-contamination.

To avoid cross-contamination and possible illness, here are some guidelines:

  • Separate raw food preparation area from cooked food location.
  • Use different clean utensils and chopping boards for raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • For refrigerator storage, place cooked foods on top, produce in the middle, raw chicken, meat, and seafood below that. Make sure that thawing food is always at the bottom as it may drip.

The video referenced here contains pertinent information about foodborne illnesses, the proper way to shop for food safety, food storage, thawing and cleaning food, appropriate cooking temperatures and how to safely handle food leftovers.

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