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Home    Emergency & Trauma    Trauma Services    Safety & Injury Prevention    Food Safety
Food Safety

Have you ever suffered stomach aches and said, "Was it something I ate?"

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, which can grow and multiply on food when the food is handled in a place that is not clean, when it is stored or cooked improperly, or in some cases when it is eaten raw. These bacteria make the food go "bad" and will make people sick if they eat the "bad" food. Be smart about how you buy, store, prepare and serve food. There are many steps you can take to protect your family and guests from food poisoning.

Buying and preparing food

  • Buy foods stored beneath the frost line in grocery store freezers. Avoid cans or packages that are bulging, dented, broken, outdated or leaky. Do not even taste the contents.
  • Buy eggs that are Grade A or higher. Don't buy cracked or leaking eggs.
  • Thaw meats in the refrigerator instead of on the counter.
  • Cook meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature to ensure that it has been cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria.
  • Separate foods. Prevent cross-contamination of foods by washing hands, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. Never put cooked meat on the same platter that held the raw meat; use a clean dish!
  • Wipe up spills immediately. Use a disposable paper towel and then clean the surface with an antibacterial wipe. If you use a sink sponge or dish towel they may become contaminated and serve as reservoirs for bacteria.
  • Keep it clean. Wash produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables in running tap water. Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage. Bacteria grow well on the cut surface of a fruit or vegetable, so make sure the cutting board has been washed with soap and water. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

Storing leftovers

  • Wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces before and after handling leftovers.
  • Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours of preparation.
  • Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees or colder.
  • Very hot items can be cooled at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to refrigeration. Frequent stirring will accelerate the cooling process.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in covered, shallow containers. Food will cool faster in shallow containers.
  • Arrange leftovers at least 2 inches apart in the fridge to allow cold air to circulate.
  • Don't stack containers on top of each other so that air can flow across the bottom of the container. This allows food to cool twice as fast as sitting on a solid shelf.
  • Consider zipper-type plastic bags for hot leftovers. Food will cool quickly because the bags provide for a large, flat surface area exposed to the refrigerated air.
  • Never remove a large pot of food (such as soup, dressing or gravy) from the stove and place it in the refrigerator. Large masses of food can take days to chill properly and provide an ideal environment for the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Store leftovers within two hours of cooking.
  • Discard food left sitting at a temperature of 86 degrees or higher, for more than one hour.
  • Do not put the food back into the same container it was in and never add leftover food to fresh food.Date leftovers to monitor recommended expiration. General rule: eat within 3 days.  

Storing leftover turkey

  • Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours of preparation.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling leftover turkey.
  • Remove stuffing from inside the turkey. Refrigerate in a separate, shallow, tightly covered storage container.
  • Take turkey meat off the bones. Wings and drumsticks may remain whole.
  • Dice turkey if you plan to use in soup, turkey salad or other recipes.
  • Wrap turkey tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
  • Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days; stuffing and gravy should be used within 1 or 2 days.
  • Frozen leftovers (0 °F or below), will keep indefinitely, but for best quality, use within timeframe listed below:
    • Turkey, plain; slices or pieces: 4 mos.
    • Turkey covered with broth or gravy: 6 mos.
    • Cooked poultry dishes, stuffing and gravy: 4-6 mos.
    • Frozen leftovers should be eaten within 4 days of being taken out of the freezer.

Storing dairy

  • Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk and cream in the containers you purchase them in.
  • After transferring milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, do not return unused portions to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with plastic wrap or lid.
  • Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil or loose plastic.
  • Plastic milk bottles are recommended over cardboard cartons because bacteria can grow near the cardboard spout and enter a glass of milk every time you pour. Nevertheless, as long as you use the milk within its shelf life, it should be safe to drink.

Storing fruits and vegetables

  • Keep fruits and vegetables separate.
  • Store like with like: apples with apples, carrots with carrots.
  • Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate.
  • Store fruits and vegetables susceptible to drying out in perforated or unsealed plastic bags to maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
  • Don't wash produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.

Missouri Poison Center

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