Food safety: It’s not just to prevent coronavirus

Diane Hall is a dietician and the president of Balanced Senior Nutrition Solutions.

In all the often stressed ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus,  if someone doesn’t know to wash his or her hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food, Diane Hall says, "I don’t know where they’ve been."

But there’s more to food safety than avoiding a global pandemic, said Hall, 63, of Malabar.

The nationally recognized dietician, president of Balanced Senior Nutrition Solutions, which she founded in 1992, said people need to keep their food safe from far more common threats — bacteria — that can play havoc with one’s health.

Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an A-to-Z list of more than 40 kinds of foodborne illnesses, from Amebiasis to Yersinia, caused by bacteria or other organisms. For the list — and the symptoms — go to  cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases/index.html.

"Foodborne illness costs Americans billions of dollars each year, and serves as a constant challenge for consumers, researchers, government and industry," says the Partnership for Food Safety Education of Arlington, Virginia.

The good news, Hall said, is one can avoid all that by following a few steps in one’s own kitchen. She supports the Partnership’s four core practices: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean: Wash your hands with soap and warm water, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food — and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. But don’t stop there.

"Don’t forget the cutting boards, the counter tops, these other places where food has been," Hall said.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before eating. So avoid the tasty temptation to pop a fresh store-bought strawberry in your mouth once you get home, she said.

Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs need to be separated from other foods — in the shopping cart, grocery bags and in the refrigerator. That prevents bacteria from one uncooked item from contaminating another. 

Cook: Cook food to a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. To do this, use a food thermometer. Follow recommendations for safe cooking temperatures. 

Chill: Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store. And never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before chilling or freezing them.

And then there’s milk, Hall said. Shoppers might be familiar with the expiration dates stamped onto milk cartons.

"You can buy milk on Aug. 18 and notice it’s good until Oct. 18," she said. "Well, it is good until October if you don’t open it."

Once it’s opened, she cites the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory: seven days.

For more information on Hall’s work, go to bsnsolutions.net.

For a full breakdown of the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s four core practices, go to fightbac.org/food-safety-basics/the-core-four-practices.