As many as seventy-six million Americans annually suffer upset stomachs, diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms from various food-borne illnesses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To prevent an outbreak at your home, follow these suggestions from Diane Van, manager of the USDA's meat and poultry hotline for consumers.
Check your refrigerator's temperature. And, while you're at it, check the freezer's too. You'll probably need to invest in thermometers for both, since few models come with them these days. Keep the refrigerator at forty degrees Fahrenheit or below, Van says. The freezer needs to be at zero degrees F or lower.
Stirred, not shaken. That's the advice for food cooked in a microwave, which doesn't uniformly heat food. Cool spots can provide just the right conditions for food-borne bacteria to grow. So stir dishes well halfway through cooking.
Look for expiration dates. "Sell by" dates are for the grocer; "use by" dates are for you. Don't buy products past the "sell" date, and don't use them at home past the "use" date.
The clock is ticking. Use luncheon meat within three to five days of opening; yogurt within seven to fourteen days. Cream cheese should be consumed within two weeks.
Skip the mold. You may be tempted to cut off the small moldy corner on a slice of bread and eat the rest, but that's not wise. Mold often has microscopic roots that can grow deep within a food and make you very sick.
Cook with a food thermometer. It's the only sure way to know that your food has reached the proper temperature to kill food-borne bacteria. Figure 160 degrees F for meat, 165 F for poultry and leftovers.
Resist tasting food to see if it's okay. When in doubt, throw it out.