Food safety keep everyone healthy

By Perry E. Solice, Jr., REHS - Environmental Health Supervisor

As the New Year begins, it’s a must to add more fruits and vegetables to our diet. This is a wonderful idea but remember all these salads and fruits must be safe to consume.

Often we associate chicken and other meats with causing dreadful food poisonings, but a lot of red, green and yellow food items can make one sick also if not handled properly. There are several steps to follow to ensure you get those extra vitamins and minerals. Purchase produce that is not damaged or bruised. When selecting fresh cut produce, such as bagged salads or melons, choose items that are refrigerated or on ice.

Bag your fruits and vegetables separately from meats and seafood products. Always store your produce in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 41 degrees or lower. In preparing these fruits and vegetables make sure you wash your hands thoroughly. Discard any rotten produce which can contaminate other produce and make sure you wash all produce before eating.

If the package indicates the contents have been pre-washed, you can consume the produce without further washing. If you choose to peel it before eating, it is very important to wash it first. Here are some other preventive steps you may follow when preparing foods:

• Wash your hands often. Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to keep from getting sick and spreading illnesses. Cleaning your hands gets rid of germs you pick up from other people, from the surfaces you touch, and from the animals you come in contact with. Several important times to always wash are before eating, before, during, and after preparing foods, after changing diapers and visits to the bathroom, and handling trash and pets. Wet your hands, apply soap and rub together for at least 20 seconds. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. After rinsing your hands well under running water dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer.

• Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces around you. Cleaning and disinfection are not the same thing. Cleaning with soap and water removes dirt and most germs, but sometimes surfaces need a disinfectant for further protection from germs. While surfaces make look clean, germs may be lurking around for hours, even days. Disinfect those areas where there can be large numbers of dangerous germs, such as kitchen counter tops and bathrooms. Disinfectants destroy bacteria and other germs. Always be sure to follow the directions on the product label when using these germ destroying agents.

• Handle and prepare food safely. Germs that cause foodborne illness can be spread throughout the kitchen from hands, cutting boards, utensils and counter tops. Be sure to clean kitchen surfaces before and after handling different food types. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you prepare the next item. Don’t cross-contaminate one food with another such as chicken, beef, and produce. Start at the grocery store by using the plastic bags available in the meat and produce sections. Be sure to not allow juices from meat, seafood, and poultry to drip on other foods during refrigeration. Also, be sure to cook foods to proper temperatures. The only way to know for sure that meat is cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. Temperature control needs to be maintained for foods that are not going to be eaten immediately. Maintain heat or refrigerate foods promptly to keep the harmful bacteria away.

Staying healthy is important to all of us. Following these steps may help control many infectious diseases before they happen. The Sampson County Health Department also offers a ServSafe Class for anyone who manages or works in a food service establishment. It is a one-day course focusing on food sanitation, the flow of food preparation and sanitary facilities and pest management. For more information contact the Sampson County Environmental Health office at 910-592-4675.

By Perry E. Solice, Jr., REHS

Environmental Health Supervisor