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Preventing food poisoning

Food poisoning, also called food-borne illness, is a common, distressing and sometimes life-threatening problem for millions of people throughout the world. People infected with food-borne organisms may be symptom-free or may have symptoms ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to severe dehydration and bloody diarrhoea.

Depending on the type of infection, people can even die as a result of food poisoning. That is why it is very important to take steps to prevent food poisoning. Follow these general guidelines to avoid contracting a food-borne illness.

General guidelines to prevent food poisoning

  • Make sure that food from animal sources (meat, dairy, eggs) is cooked thoroughly or pasteurised.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meats and eggs. Check sell-by dates on meats before purchasing and again before preparing.
  • Carefully select and prepare fish and shellfish to ensure quality and freshness.
  • If you are served an undercooked meat or egg product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You should also ask for a new plate.
  • Be careful to keep juices or drippings from raw meat, poultry, shellfish or eggs from contaminating other foods.
  • Don't wash raw chicken before cooking, as this can spread germs around the kitchen.
  • When barbecuing food, always make sure it is cooked all the way through and not just charred on the outside.
  • Do not leave eggs, meats, poultry, seafood or milk for extended periods of time at room temperature. Promptly refrigerate leftovers and food prepared in advance.
  • Wash your hands, cutting boards and knives with antibacterial soap and warm to hot water after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk or foods made from unpasteurised milk.
  • Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Thaw foods in the fridge and use them promptly. Do not refreeze foods once they have been completely thawed.
  • Wash raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating, especially those that will not be cooked.
  • Drink only pasteurised juice or cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf life that is sold at room temperature (juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed juice in glass containers) has been pasteurised, although this is generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated sufficiently to kill bacteria.
  • If you are ill with diarrhoea or vomiting, do not prepare food for others, especially infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems since they are more vulnerable to infection.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds or after contact with human or pet faeces.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breast-feeding may prevent many food-borne illnesses and other health problems.

Those at high risk, such as pregnant women, should also avoid soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, blue-veined or other cheese with similar rind are more prone to carry harmful bacteria. Hard cheeses are safe to eat and processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese and yoghurt are also safe provided they have been pasteurised.

Cook foods until they are steaming hot, especially leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, before eating.

Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems may choose to avoid or thoroughly reheat cooked sliced meats before eating.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 24, 2014

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