Health Department Shares Food Safety Tips to Protect Against Foodborne Illnesses

As Pennsylvanians prepare for outdoor picnics and the summer holidays, Department of Health officials shared tips on how to properly handle and store food to protect against foodborne illnesses.

“Proper food handling and storage will help prevent foodborne illnesses that can cause severe symptoms and sometimes be deadly,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Foodborne illnesses are common but also preventable. It is essential that residents take the necessary precautions when working with food to keep themselves and others from getting sick.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. There are more than 250 different types of foodborne illnesses. Common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting.

Anyone can get a foodborne illness, but some groups are more at risk than others. These groups include children younger than 5; adults 65 and older; people with weakened immune systems from a medical condition, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy; and pregnant women.

To prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses, the CDC recommends you follow four steps: clean; separate; cook; and chill.

Washing your hands, your utensils and your fresh fruits and vegetables will help prevent the spread of germs that cause food poisoning. Always wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food and before eating. Always make sure to wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water, and make sure to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under water.

Separating foods will prevent cross-contamination and decrease the spread of germs. Always use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood and when shopping, keep these foods and their juices away from other foods. Additionally, make sure to store these foods away from other foods in the fridge.

Cooking foods to the right temperature will help prevent foodborne illnesses. Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer, not by checking its color and texture. Different types of food should be cooked to the following temperatures:

  • Whole cuts of beef, pork, veal and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating);
  • Ground meats, such as beef and pork should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey, should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • Leftovers and casseroles should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • Fresh ham (raw) should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit; and
  • Finfish should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, or until flesh is opaque.

Refrigerating your food promptly will help prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and making you sick. Always keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees and chill perishable foods within two hours. If the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, refrigerate food within one hour. The safest way to thaw frozen food is in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria can grow quickly in foods that are left at room temperature.

If you have a food-related illness, your doctor or the laboratory that did the testing will report it to the department. You can also call 1-877-PA-HEALTH to speak with a public health nurse.