We live in a global food economy and most people purchase and consume foods produced thousands of kilometres away that are often packaged in bulk to simplify food preparation at home and in restaurants.
Meat, poultry and fish may come from huge farms where hundreds of thousands of animals are raised together, increasing the chance that food poisoning organisms will spread widely before they are detected.
More than 40 million cases and 3,000 deaths are estimated to result from food poisoning in the United States each year.
Cases are no longer mainly tied to foods made with raw eggs or undercooked meat and poultry. Harmful organisms now show up in foods that were not considered a problem years ago, like raspberries, cantaloupe, ice cream, salami, scallions, parsley, apple cider and even toasted oat cereal.
You can protect yourself if you take proper precautions with the food you buy.
Most important: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If a food item is meant to be refrigerated, don't keep it at temperatures above 4 deg C any longer than it takes to get from store to home - an hour or two at most. In hot weather or a sun-filled vehicle, transport food in an ice-filled cooler or insulated bag.
Once home, store the foods safely. Never place raw meat, poultry or fish in the fridge where it can drip onto other foods.
Don't defrost frozen foods on the counter. Take them out of the freezer in ample time for them to thaw in the fridge or use a microwave oven with a defrost feature.
Food safety experts advise against rinsing raw meat, poultry and fish in the sink; it risks spreading noxious organisms on surfaces that will later come into contact with foods eaten raw.
However, produce can and should be washed even if you plan to peel or cook it, unless it comes in a package labelled triple-rinsed or ready to use. Rinsing, again, risks cross-contamination.
Be doubly sure to wash melons, especially cantaloupe and others with rough skins, before cutting into them lest you transfer nasty organisms from the surface of the fruit to the flesh within.
But experts do not recommend using soap or bleach on foods.
Before preparing to cook, use soap and warm water to wash your hands, under your nails and up to your wrists. Use a commercial cleanser or a solution of one teaspoon of bleach in 950ml of water to clean kitchen surfaces.
When prepping foods, use separate cutting boards and knives for raw animal foods and produce, even produce you plan to cook, or wash the equipment thoroughly with soapy water between the two.
Always refrigerate foods that are being marinated, even if the marinade is acidic. Never use the same marinade on the food after it has been cooked - unless you boil it first for 10 minutes - and don't reuse it to marinate something else.
Cook animal products to the proper temperature: 71 deg C for ground meat; 74 deg C for poultry; 63 deg C for pork and fin fish; until the flesh is opaque for most shellfish, and until shells open for clams, oysters and mussels. After a food is cooked, put it on a clean platter.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.