Bringing in the New Year with salmonella prevention

By Meagan Myers, RN Health Dept.

January 23, 2014

Salmonella infects thousands of people each year. While it is easy to become infected with Salmonella, it also easy to help prevent you and your family from becoming infected with this common bacteria. Below are eight easy steps you can use.

Step one is something that we hear constantly, but is a very important thing to do. Wash your hands frequently. Dirty hands can cross-contaminate the foods we eat. This is why it is extremely important to wash our hands thoroughly and frequently when handling food with hot and soapy water. This should especially be done before handling eggs, poultry, raw meats and raw fruits/vegetables as they are the most susceptible to becoming contaminated with Salmonella. Step two is to dry your hands with a clean towel after washing them. Paper towels are a good option to have when it comes to hand drying because you use a new towel each time you dry your hands. Do not resort to using your shirt or jeans to dry your hands, which defeats the purpose of washing germs off of your hands in the first place. Step three is to maintain short clean nails. Long nails are perfect places for bacteria to grow and painted nails make provide even better places. This is why anyone who is expected to work frequently in the kitchen should make it a habit to keep their nails short and clean.

The next four steps involve preparing, cooking, and storing food. Step four: remember to cook your food completely. This especially applies to poultry and eggs. The rule of thumb is that poultry should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees and eggs should be kept at 150 degrees. Step Five: leftovers should be kept safe. There is a temperature range that is called the “Danger Zone” for food. This range is from 45 to 140 degrees. Individuals should avoid keeping leftovers on the counter and should store their leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. Step six: it is also important to thaw your frozen foods in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of bacteria. It is common to let frozen food thaw on the counter or in the sink, but the two best ways to thaw frozen food and prevent the growth of bacteria are either in the refrigerator or defrosting the food in the microwave. Step Six: before placing meat inside the refrigerator for storage, clean it with salt and place it in a leak-proof container. Salt is a natural antibacterial and is effective in the prevention of Salmonella.

The final two steps are regarding the importance of separation between raw meats and raw vegetables. Step seven is to separate your cutting boards for raw fruits/vegetables and raw meats, especially the ones that will be used to cut fruits/vegetables that will be served uncooked. Wooden boards are only recommended for cutting vegetables and fruits; they can harbor germs, so clean them thoroughly with soap and hot water after each use. Plastic cutting boards are recommended for cutting meats as they are the easiest to keep clean and also prevent bacteria growth. You can also use the plastic cutting boards for fruits and vegetables, just make sure you know which is for fruits/vegetables and which is for meats. Step eight: it is important to make sure both your raw meats and raw fruits/vegetables are separated from your other grocery items. It is especially important to make sure the raw fruits/vegetables you will NOT cook are separated from your other items, especially raw meats. Make sure your items are separated not only when they are placed in grocery bags at the store, but in your refrigerator as well. Do not place them next to one another and do NOT place raw meats over raw fruits/vegetables when storing them on the shelves in your refrigerator. It is crucial to know how foods should be packed and stored. If you follow these 8 simple steps, your risk of developing Salmonella poisoning will be greatly decreased. So let’s make it a new year’s resolution to practice safe food handling to prevent illness.

For more information on how to prevent food contamination/ infection or other types of infections, please call the Sampson County Health Department Communicable Disease Program at 910-592-1131, ext. 4248 or 4972.