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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Prevent Foodborne Illness 

Seven Ways To Prevent Foodborne Illness

Contaminated food can make you or someone else ill. When people think they have the "flu" or a "stomach bug," they may have a foodborne illness (FBI). One cannot tell from the way food looks, smells or tastes if it is safe or not, but here are top seven ways to prevent foodborne illness.

You can make the difference.

Improper cooling or holding

Cooling food too slowly is the major cause of foodborne illness. Potentially hazardous foods, such as meats, seafood, poultry and dairy products must be rapidly cooled from 140°F to 70°F within two hours, then from 70°F to 41°F within four hours.

  • Store food to be cooled in shallow pans no deeper than 3-4 inches
  • Cool container of food in an icewater bath of half water and half ice.
  • Stir the food often while cooling.
  • Refrigerate hot foods uncovered in shallow pans immediately. (Use a freezer to speed it up)
  • Do not place tight covers on foods during cooling.
  • Allow air circulation in the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate canned foods prior to mixing it with other foods. (example: can of tuna)
  • Do not cool foods at room temperature longer than 30 minutes.
Contaminated raw foods or ingredients
  • Certain raw foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, shellfish, milk and eggs may be contaminated with bacteria or viruses. These microorganisms can be spread during processing and preparation and can easily survive in the food if heating is inadequate.
  • Buy foods from an approved source.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperatures.
  • Keep cold foods properly refrigerated.
  • Wash all raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board/utensil for raw and cooked products unless they are sanitized between uses. Use a different cutting board for fruits, vegetables and breads than you do for meats.
Infected person handling foods

People with poor food handling habits and poor personnel hygiene are the biggest contributors to foodborne illness outbreaks. Here is what you can do:

  • Do not handle food if you have colds, flu, diarrhea or hepatitis.
  • Do not handle food if you have infected cuts, burns or lesions on the hands or lower arm.
  • Wash hands effectively during food handling.
  • Wash hands after eating, smoking, blowing nose, etc.
  • Do not wipe hands or utensils on apron or cloth towels.
  • Do not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands, if possible.
  • Use utensils, deli paper, disposable gloves, etc.
  • Use hand sanitizers after washing hands.
Inadequate cooking or heating of food
  • All potentially hazardous foods must be cooked to a safe internal temperature before consumption.
  • Cook poultry, stuffing and dressing at 165°F for at least 15 seconds.
  • Cook ground beef and pork products to 155°F for at least 15 seconds.
  • Cook beef cuts and other foods to at least 145°F.
  • Do not rely on the color of the food, but use a food thermometer to check the temperature.
Inadequate reheating

Reheating leftover and refrigerated foods to improper temperatures is also a major cause of foodborne illness. Many times this happens when foods are just "warmed up" rather than heating thoroughly. Always reheat leftover refrigerated foods RAPIDLY to 165°F before serving or hot holding. If it is liquid, bring it to boil.

Obtaining food from an unsafe source

In all food establishments, all food received must be from an approved and inspected source. Foods processed at private homes may not be offered for sale to the public.

Time lapse between food preparation and consumption

Given sufficient time, bacteria in food can grow depending on the type of food, the temperature at which it was held, its moisture and its acidity level. Foods that are prepared in advance of serving must be handled very carefully. Such foods must be properly cooked, cooled to proper temperatures and stored at 41°F or below. Do not forget to reheat all leftover food to 165°F rapidly.

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