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Top 4 Essential Food Safety Tips

One in six Americans are likely to get sick from food poisoning this year, according to FoodSafety.gov [1], the multi-agency government site.

Food poisoning also sends more than 100,000 Americans to the hospital each year, according to the site, which is administered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These agencies provide key roles in ensuring food safety in the United States.

Americans are somewhat concerned that the partial federal government shutdown may affect the safety of food products sold at grocery stores and other locations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which monitors the country’s meat and poultry producers, has reported that 90 percent of its workforce remains on the job. The FDA announced last week that it is restarting inspections of high-risk foods.

“Our Office of Human and Animal Food Operations has more than 200 food investigators (not counting support staff and supervisors) out of about 550 total professionals when the agency is fully operational,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., tweeted over the weekend.

The commissioner stated that commodities deemed “high risk” include, but aren’t limited to: “acidified and low-acid canned foods; seafood; custard-filled bakery products; dairy products including soft, semi-soft, soft-ripened cheese and cheese products; unpasteurized juices; sprouts ready-to-eat; fresh fruits and vegetables and processed fruits and vegetables; spices; shell eggs; sandwiches; prepared salads; infant formula; and medical foods.”

Meanwhile, there are steps that consumers can take anytime to help prevent food poisoning. And in warmer climates, like that found in South Florida, these steps are even more important, says Deepa Sharma, D.O. [2], a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care [3].

“There are bacteria everywhere,” stresses Dr. Sharma. “So it is recommended that if you are using raw meat that you don’t use that same plate for your cooked meats.”

Here are the four steps to food safety [4], according to the USDA:

1. Wash Your Hands & Surfaces Often
“You should wash your hands with warm water and soap, and you should wash them for at least 20 seconds,” says Dr. Sharma. She adds that it’s also crucial to wash surfaces and utensils after each use.

2. Separate Raw Meats from Other Food
“There is cross-contamination that can occur,” she says. “So you want to keep the raw meats separate. And that includes at the grocery store; keep them separate in grocery bags and when you place them in the refrigerator.”

3. Cook to the Right Temperature
“The color and texture (of meat) are not indicators enough,” says Dr. Sharma. “So while it might look delicious, it might not be ready to eat.”

4. Refrigerate Food Promptly
“If you’re outdoors and you’re grilling outside, the rule is that if it’s above 90 degrees, it’s about an hour that you have to get that food into a refrigerator,” she said. “If you are indoors, and it’s under 90 degrees, you can leave the food out for up to two hours before it’s refrigerated.”