Saving yourself from Salmonella*

Causing about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States every year, Salmonella is nothing to scoff at. Of those illnesses, thousands are hospitalized each year— sometimes even resulting in death.

Salmonella lives in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and many animals. It is commonly found in raw poultry and seafood as feces may be introduced to the meat during butchering. Click here to see an overview on how pathogens make us sick.

Rates of foodborne illnesses from Salmonella have not changed much from 1996 to 2012, according to the CDC. While some types of Salmonella have increased over the years, others have decreased, leading to a relatively unchanged number of occurrences of the foodborne illness.

“Fresh meat that is never frozen unfortunately carries risks that it is not sterile,” said food safety researchers at Neogen. “You should always take every precaution in the handling and preparation of your food to ensure its safety on the dinner table.”

Here are some steps to take in order to help prevent foodborne illness:

  • Don’t leave your meat sitting out at ambient temperature to defrost — many bacteria thrive in warmer temperatures, which can cause unwanted GI symptoms (and trips to the bathroom) later. Instead: defrost your meat in the refrigerator, under cool water or in the microwave.
  • Use this handy minimum cooking temperatures guide from FoodSafety.gov to help you with any kind of protein you may be cooking — including leftovers.
  • Washing things = cleanliness … EXCEPT with your proteins. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service does not recommend cleaning cuts of meat prior to cooking. There are a few reasons for this. Juices from the meat can be spread to other foods, utensils or surfaces, running the risk of cross-contaminating your entire dinner. Other types of bacteria can’t be easily washed off, so it would remain meat despite thorough washing. Simply cooking your food at the right temperature helps kill the bacteria.
  • Speaking of cooking to a right temperature: you could cut into your chicken, or press on it to see if any pinkish juices come out. However, this is not a 100% effective or recommended method. The best method to ensure that your poultry is cooked correctly, is to use a thermometer.

And, as always, practice sanitation. Ensure thorough cleaning of all utensils, cutting boards, counter tops and other surfaces or maters that may come into contact with raw food. Always wash your hands before and after touching raw foods and utilize the steps above to ensure your next meal doesn’t lead to a stop at the hospital.

*and other foodborne illnesses. The bullet points outlined above work for many types of meat and raw foods!

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