March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
The start of a new year offers an opportunity to reflect on and consider what you can do to make your life happier and healthier. Put food safety at the top of your resolution list and commit to safely handling food all year long.
"While many focus resolutions on health goals like weight loss or training for a marathon, it's also important to consider food safety," said registered dietitian and past Academy Spokesperson Joy Dubost (2011-2016). "By following a few simple steps to safely handle food at home, you can keep food safe and dramatically reduce your risk of food poisoning."
One in 6 Americans is sickened by food poisoning each year, and while it may involve flu-like symptoms, foodborne illness can cause severe and even life-threatening illnesses.
"Food safety is an important investment in your entire family's health," said Dubost. Young children and infants, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes are at an increased risk of food poisoning.
Ensure your kitchen is equipped for food safety this coming year, and follow these simple steps to properly handle food and reduce your risk of food poisoning:
- Wash your hands. Hand washing has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention, according to the CDC. Wash hands thoroughly in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Buy and use a food thermometer. The only way to determine if harmful bacteria has been eliminated is to cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature. Always use a food thermometer to ensure food is fully cooked. Don't rely upon sight, smell or taste.
- Keep it clean. Use hot, soapy water to wash countertops and surfaces, cutting boards, refrigerator door handles and utensils. After cleaning, keep it clean by avoiding cross-contamination. Start by washing hands thoroughly after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. And use a separate cutting board for raw meat and poultry from the cutting board you use for ready-to-eat foods such as bread and produce. Wrap raw meat and poultry in sealed containers or plastic bags and place on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent the raw meat juices from dripping onto other foods and surfaces.
- Safely store leftovers. Perishable food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of serving or throw them out. In hot weather, when 90°F or above, toss within one hour of serving. Use an appliance thermometer to check that the refrigerator is cooling to 40°F or below and the freezer is 0°F or below.