Food is a huge part of our lives. We all need it, and we all can appreciate it when it is good. Food is the subject of books, television shows, movies, blogs, and more. However, it is perishable. If we eat it after it has gone bad, food can harm us. Food safety is important at home, during travel, and when eating out.
One of the best things about learning about food safety is that it keeps you protected, but it also enables you to help keep others away from harm as well. While foodborne illness is generally mild and does not cause any lasting effects, it can severely impact pregnant women, the elderly, the very young, or anyone with a compromised immune system.
Food Safety Basics
There are some basic rules when it comes to food safety. First, you should always pay attention to what temperature food is best kept at. Although some foods are kept on the shelf, you should put them in the refrigerator once opened, and other foods should never drop below freezing unless you intend to cook them right away. Also, frozen food can be cooked and then frozen, but should never be thawed and then refrozen without cooking. Second, expiration dates on food should always be considered. It is probably fine to eat something that expired a day ago, but it should be examined and should rarely be consumed after that. Finally, you should always wash your hands and any utensils that come in contact with raw food.
- United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service: Keep food safe! Food safety basics
- National Pork Board: Food safety basics
- Institute of Child Nutrition: Food safety basics
Food Safety & Sanitation at Home
At home, it can sometimes be harder to maintain food safety and sanitation than in a commercial kitchen. Our homes often have pets and kids, and let’s be honest, how often do we really clean our ovens at home? However, food safety and sanitation are still important. It is important to wash and store food appropriately and to make sure that food is stored properly. Just like in a commercial kitchen, food containers should never be set on the floor, and you should clean any food storage containers as well as possible. You should also never leave food out, allowing it to come to room temperature unless it is safe to do so.
Food Safety in the Car and When Traveling
Road trips are the best but getting sick from road trip snacks is terrible! When going somewhere with food, you should always keep a cooler for any items that need to be kept cold, and you should change the ice periodically to try to maintain a constant temperature. Food should never be left in the car during the summer or when it is very hot, and it should be properly sealed and stored, both to prevent a spill and to keep it fresh! It is also important to make sure that food in the car does not suffer from temperature changes. A constant temperature, whether hot or cold, is key to keeping road trip food good!
- National Grocers Association: Food safety on the move
- Institute of Food Technologies: How to keep food safe when tailgating
Tips When Bringing Food from Home
When bringing food from home to an event, there are several tips that can help keep your potluck safe! First, edible items should be in containers that are clean and have a seal. Foil is fine, but a snap on lid is even better. This keeps bugs and other creatures out! Second, food should be kept at the proper temperature both on the ride to the event and at the event itself. Food should not sit out longer at room temperature than it has to. Third, if you do have extremely hot weather, that should influence your food choices. Dairy, for example, can go bad very quickly when it is warm. Finally, food brought from home should be clearly labeled with any allergens, like peanuts, shellfish, or others. This can help keep you and the other guests safe!
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Keeping food safe at potluck meals
- City of Manchester, New Hampshire: Potluck food safety guidelines
Tips When Buying Food Elsewhere
When shopping for food or eating out in a restaurant, it is important to pay attention to expiration dates, but it is also important to know what food should look, smell, and taste like. If you know how a steak should taste, and what a steak that has gone bad smells and tastes like (sweet and a little gamey), then you can identify if what you are eating is good or not.
In a grocery store, paying attention to the expiration dates is important, but so is looking at the cleanliness of the store and how the food is stored. Finally, whether eating out or buying food in a store, paying attention to the cleanliness and care of the employees can help you determine whether proper food sanitation or storage is occurring. Although you cannot always avoid a bad meal, it is easier if you pay attention to the restaurant or store’s general state.
What to Do If You Think You Have a Food-Related Illness
If you do come down with a food-related illness, it is crucial that you see a doctor if symptoms get worse quickly or last for a long time. Although most adults know if they have an allergy, if a food is mislabeled or not labeled at all, they may not know they have eaten an allergen. If you have a food allergy, a good plan is to keep antihistamines or treatment with you if your allergy is severe enough. If you think you have food poisoning, you should see a doctor if symptoms worsen quickly or do not improve within 24 hours. Being sick for too long can lead to stomach problems and dehydration. When in doubt, always seek the advice of a medical professional.
- Mayo Clinic: Food poisoning
- National Capital Poison Center: Food poisoning
- Consumer Reports: How to prevent, recognize, and treat food poisoning
- Centers for Disease Control: Food allergies in schools