How to Prevent Food Poisoning

Two weeks ago I got food poisoning. I got it from a deli sandwich that either had bad mayo or meat on it. This wasn’t a little, twenty-four hour case of food poisoning, either. This was a full-blown-week-long-have-to-go-to-the-doctor-because-I’m-dangerously-dehydrated kind of food poisoning. Let me tell you, it wasn’t fun. (Although losing eleven pounds in a week was kind of thrilling.) Aside from being miserable it was expensive, what with the doctor’s visits, medications, and missed work.

The only way I could have prevented this unpleasantness was to have stuck with my frugality and not eaten out that day. But, since it was a small celebration, I went. Unfortunately, the person who was celebrating chose the restaurant and it didn’t have that great of a sanitation grade. I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I went along and I paid the price. This isn’t to say that you should never eat out, but there are some ways to prevent or reduce your risk of getting food poisoning and thus incurring the misery and expenses involved.

Wash everything: Wash all of your produce when you get it home, even things that are “pre-washed.” The washing it got at the factory may not have been sufficient to remove all bacteria.

Check sanitation grades: When eating out, check the sanitation grade of the restaurant. The higher the better.

Don’t eat anything that’s expired: Once food is past it’s expiration date, be very careful. Some foods can be eaten after they’ve technically “expired,” but others go bad fast. If it smells off or has a strange taste, toss it.

Don’t eat out often: The more you eat out, the more you put yourself at risk. You don’t have control over food preparation at a restaurant and you’re relying on them to obey all the rules. Most do, but some cut corners and that can be bad news for you.

Be picky about restaurant food: When eating out, decline things like mayonnaise, mayo based dressings, and egg or mayo based salads. Many restaurants do a good job with these items, but these items are also great breeders of food borne bacteria. If they are not properly refrigerated at all times, it’s very easy for them to develop illness causing bacteria.

Cook everything thoroughly: Cook everything to it’s recommended temperature. Eating raw or undercooked food is begging for food poisoning.

Clean your hands, counters, utensils, and cutting boards thoroughly after preparing meats and other risky foods: And don’t use the knife or cutting board you used for meat for other things without thoroughly cleaning them first. If possible, keep two cutting boards and use one for meat and the other for everything else. And wash your hands before eating!

Be careful when thawing food: Don’t thaw it on a counter or outside. Put it in the fridge or use the microwave.

Promptly refrigerate leftovers: Don’t leave them on the counter or picnic table for hours. Get them in the cooler as soon as possible.

Get food home in a hurry: Do your grocery shopping last so your meats, cheeses. and dairy products get into the fridge promptly. Don’t go grocery shopping and then run five more errands before heading home. This is particularly true in the summer heat.

Go with your gut: If it looks funny, smells bad, or tastes strange, throw it away or, if at a restaurant, send it back and ask for something else. Don’t be shy about protecting your health.

Don’t be afraid to ask to go to a different restaurant: This was my tragic mistake. I knew the place we were going wasn’t that great as far as sanitation goes, but I didn’t want to say anything. I should have asked if there was somewhere else we could go.

If, despite your best efforts, you suspect you have food poisoning, get to the doctor immediately. Like an idiot, I waited too long and it took more time (and money) to get me back to normal. You may not be able to prevent every case of food poisoning, but taking some simple precautions can keep you from enduring what I just did.

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3 Responses to How to Prevent Food Poisoning

  1. Jawnsonboots says:

    The mayo thing is a myth that just won’t die. The more dangerous things are eggs and potatoes if you want to lay blame. Commercially packaged mayo is pasteurized and has a high acid content which slows bacteria growth.

    Otherwise these are good tips that people should definitely pay attention to… specifically the one where you say to pay attention to your gut feeling.

  2. Dido says:

    IF you have sanitation grades on eating establishments. The vast majority of us don’t. California has had them for a decade, but NYC just instituted them six months ago, and then NC and SC have them, but otherwise, you’ll find them in few areas of the country at this point in time.

  3. anyi says:

    Great article but it would be worth letting people know that most food poisoning occurs from foods where there is no smell, taste or sight of the pathogens.

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