Food Safety and Preventing Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is common, as the CDC estimates that there are about 76 million cases of food poisoning in the United States each year. Although most of these cases are mild, about 325,000 people with food poisoning are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year.
Since young children are among those most at risk for getting serious and even life-threatening cases of food poisoning, it is important for parents to learn how to prevent food poisoning.
Although the media publicizes the cases of food poisoning that are caused by the high profile contaminated peanut butter and pepper Salmonella outbreaks, know that it is probably more common to get food poisoning from foods that are improperly cleaned, prepared, and stored in your own home.
Safe Food Storage
So food doesn't go bad, store it in the right place and under the proper conditions, and don't exceed the storage limit or the food's expiration date.
To get started, it can help to:
- set the temperature of your refrigerator to about 35 to 40 F and don't allow it to get above 40 F
- set the temperature of your freezer to 0 F or below
- clean out your refrigerator so that it isn't overcrowded and so cold air can circulate around stored foods
- choose foods that aren't close to their expiration date when you are grocery shopping
- rotate older foods in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, to the front when you buy new foods so that you remember to use the older foods before they expire
- regularly check expiration dates on foods in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and throw out ones that are expired.
- refrigerate prepared foods and leftovers within 2 hours and within 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 F
- store foods in their own small, separate plastic or glass containers or zippered plastic bags, instead of grouping different foods into larger containers which may not cool as quickly
- regularly check foods for signs that they may be spoiled, including mold or a bad smell
- keep foods covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil
- throw away any canned foods that have damage, including denting, swelling (a sign of botulism contamination), or leakage
Food Storage Guidelines
It is relatively easy to store and know when to throw out food with expiration dates. It gets harder to know what to do with leftover cooked foods.
How long can you keep last night's dinner in the refrigerator before it goes bad?
In general, eat leftovers as soon as possible. These food storage guidelines should be help, including that you only store (in the refrigerator):
- ground beef for 1 to 2 days
- steaks and roasts for 3 to 5 days
- pork chops for 3 to 5 days
- lunch meats for 3 to 5 days
- fish for 1 to 2 days
- chicken for 1 to 2 days, although fried chicken may be fine for 3 to 4 days
- pizza for 3 to 4 days
- milk for 7 days, although you shouldn't use milk that is more than 2 or 3 days past its 'sell by' date
- an opened package of hot dogs for 1 week
Most importantly, if you are unsure if a food has been stored safely and is still good, throw it away and don't serve it to your kids. It is not worth a bout of food poisoning just because your kids want the leftover pizza that has been in the refrigerator for a week.
Remember that just because a food doesn't look or smell bad, doesn't mean that it can't have enough bacteria on it to make you sick. It may have been stored improperly, be past its usual 'shelf life,' or be past its expiration date.