We often take food safety for granted and assume that everything we buy is likely fine to eat until a predetermined expiration date, but the truth is that some foods have far higher risk of spreading foodborne illness.
Anyone with a weakened immune system, including children, the elderly, or anyone taking immunosuppressants or undergoing chemotherapy is at a particularly high risk of catching a foodborne illness, but even generally healthy individuals at at risk with certain foods or poorly prepared dishes.
My top 5 tips for ensuring your food is safe:
- Read about Recalls: Rely on trustworthy sources like FoodSafety.gov for recall information! This is a phenomenal way to stay updated about any foods that may have been tainted before they reach your kitchen. While many major recalls make headlines, smaller recalls can slip by under the radar, so FoodSafety.gov’s information can help you protect yourself.
- Choose Pasteurization: Always choose pasteurized goods including milk, cheeses, and fruit juices as the pasteurization method kills dangerous bacteria
- Avoid undercooked meat: Even though rare hamburgers and raw tuna taste like delicacies, many bacteria thrive at temperatures under 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so foods need to be well cooked to ensure safety.
- Take caution at buffets and salad bars: the huge selection can be tempting, but food that sits out without proper heating or cooling puts you at major risk of foodborne illness. If your hot food seems cooler than 140 degrees Fahrenheit or your cold salad bar items seem warmer than 40 degrees, bacteria can be growing all day long. Look for trustworthy locations where you see employees checking temperatures and bringing fresh trays out often. Also keep an eye out for servingware that falls into any serving dishes, carrying bacteria from whomever touched it last.
- Use your Judgment for Sell-By Dates: That beloved Sell By date on your package is only a guideline used by retailers to know when products are generally safe or should be tossed:
“Sell-By” dates are a guide for retailers. Although many products bear “Sell-By” dates, product dating is not a Federal requirement. While these dates are helpful to the retailer, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at a safe temperature during storage and handling.
— USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services
If a product was stored at an unsafe temperature at any time, that date is no longer a good estimate of how long the product will keep, so always evaluate your food carefully; if there is a change in odor or consistency, it may be a sign of spoilage. Also note that most refrigerated products should be used within 7-10 days of opening, so don’t keep your opened sour cream or salad dressing for 2 months just because the Sell By date hasn’t yet arrived!
Check out this article by Healthy Way featuring some foods that are particularly risky with input from a food safety professional as well as my recommendations for alternative options!