September is food safety month, and as students return to campus for the new school year, there are plenty of reasons to remember the importance of safe food handling.
The CDC estimates foodborne diseases cause about 48 million illnesses each year in the United States. These instances result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3000 deaths.
When two or more people become sick with flu-like symptoms after eating or drinking the same thing, foodborne illness is the likely culprit. A variety of disease-causing microbes or pathogens can contaminate food as a result of unsafe handling.
While the causes of food poisoning are many, the steps to prevention are simple and straightforward.
Safe Food Handling
Here are 4 key steps to preventing illness.
- Safe Purchasing. Buy pasteurized dairy and juice. Bag raw meat and dairy separate from produce, and never buy damaged or outdated foods.
- Safe Storage. Store perishable foods in a refrigerator or freezer as recommended. Never leave perishables sitting out: the “danger zone” for microbe growth is between 41 and 140 degrees fahrenheit (5 to 60 degrees celsius).
- Safe Preparation. Thaw food in the fridge or microwave—not on the counter. Handle and prepare raw meat, eggs, poultry and seafood separate from other foods. Wash hands well before and after each stage of food preparation. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly and test with a thermometer. (FoodSafety.Gov provides recommended cooking temperatures.)
- Safe Serving. Serve prepared foods promptly, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Do not leave cooked, perishable foods out at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate as soon as possible and date leftovers.
Princeton University students and staff wishing to learn more about safe food preparation and handling can take online short courses through the university’s e-learning portal. Under “Training by Topic," choose Food Safety. These courses are offered by the Department of Environmental Health & Safety.