It can take anywhere from a half hour to 6 weeks to become sick from unsafe foods, depending on the type of microorganism that made you sick. Therefore, it can often be very difficult to know the source of your illness. Causes and symptoms of specific types of foodborne illness can be found at FightBac.org.
If you always practice safe food handling techniques when preparing and eating food, you can significantly reduce your chances of getting a foodborne illness:
- Keep your hands and surfaces clean. Most people know they should wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, but it is just as important to wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water. Bacteria can easily spread throughout the kitchen if hands and cooking equipment are not cleaned properly.
- Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods. This should start at the grocery store and continue through food preparation. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator. After the food is cooked, make sure to always place cooked food on a clean plate.
- Cook food to proper temperatures. The only way to know for sure if a food is safely cooked is to check the temperature with a food thermometer. See the Heat it Up chart for safe cooking temperatures.
- Chill foods promptly. Refrigerating foods quickly will slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Two hours is the maximum amount of time that perishable foods can sit at room temperature before they become unsafe to eat.
Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension, WissmannM@missouri.edu