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FOR RELEASE: January 9, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Safe Food Handling Reduces Risk of Foodborne Diseases

Health officials warn that people may not be careful enough when it comes to handling, preparing and eating food. That puts them and others at risk for outbreaks of foodborne diseases. Foodborne infections such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli, make an estimated 6.5 million to 33 million people sick each year in the U.S.

One way to help ensure food is prepared safely is to correctly handle, prepare, and store food to avoid the risk of foodborne diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Agriculture, and Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) suggest the need for more consumer education on food handling safety.

A 1995-1996 telephone survey by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and CDC's Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch found that 25 percent of men and 14 percent of women do not routinely wash their hands with soap after handling raw meat or poultry.

Half of the respondents reported eating undercooked eggs, which can be contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis. Eating raw oysters has a risk of gastroenteritis and a rare type of blood poisoning.

Despite the publicity about the risk of E.coli infection associated with eating pink hamburger meat, one in five people surveyed consumed hamburgers that way. Also, drinking unpasteurized milk has the risk for bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.

The survey concluded that better consumer education on food handling was needed throughout the food process, including the growing, processing, distributing, retailing and home preparation of food.

The federal and state health agencies suggest these consumer food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm water using soap before and after handling food.
  • As a general rule, purchase fresh raw meat, poultry or fish no more than one to two days before using it. Freeze for longer storage.
  • Plan time for safe thawing of meat, poultry or fish in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing for each five pounds of weight.
  • Prevent cross-contamination of foods by keeping meat, poultry or fish separated from foods that do not require cooking.
  • Don't leave perishable foods out more than two hours in the temperature danger zone of 40 F to 140 F. This is the temperature range in which bacteria that cause foodborne infections grow the most rapidly.
  • Keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays.
  • Keep cold foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.
  • When traveling with food, keep hot foods hot by wrapping them in foil and then in heavy towels. Or, carry them in insulated wrappers or containers designed to keep food hot.
  • Place cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs at 40 F or lower.
  • Don't add fresh food to foods that have been sitting out.

In addition to basic food safety, special precautions should be taken when there are power outages that can cause problems with food safety. If people at home or those in food establishments have had a loss of power for more than four hours, take the following precautions with refrigerated food products:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • Discard any potentially hazardous foods such as meats, eggs, dairy products and leftovers that may have exceeded 45 F. If you cannot take the temperature of the food, assume it has gone above 45 F and discard it.
  • Any frozen food that has thawed but not exceeded 45 F should be prepared as soon as possible. Do not re-freeze.

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