- Food poisoning from germs in food
- Toxics in foods from storage containers, pesticides and pollution
How can I prevent food poisoning?
- Keep your refrigerator set at 41ºF or lower, and your freezer at zero ºF or lower.
- Refrigerate hot foods as soon as possible within two hours after cooking.
- Date your leftovers, and don’t keep them more than 3-5 days.
- After using cutting boards, counters, and sinks for raw meat, poultry or fish, wash them with soap and sanitize with a mild bleach solution.
- If you want to eat raw cookie dough or prepare foods with raw eggs, buy a pasteurized egg product, which is often available in the grocery store dairy section.
- Hot water and soap is a good way to clean surfaces. Using bleach solution or commercial sanitizing products is even better—but make sure you dilute to the recommended amount. You wouldn't want to eat those chemicals, or end up with dangerous fumes.
- Wash your hands before and after handling food. Use warm water and soap, and wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a clean towel to dry your hands—an unfresh damp towel can be a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. For more on hand washing, see below.
- The safest way to thaw food is in the refrigerator.
- Handle ground meat safely.
- Don’t store food in cabinets under the sink, as insects and rodents can be attracted and get in through openings for pipes.
- Wash can tops with soap and water before opening.
- Try using a dishcloth rather than a sponge. Dishcloths can be washed regularly (at least weekly) in hot water to kill germs, while sponges stay moist and provide an environment for bacterial growth. Rinse your dishcloth thoroughly, and wring out before hanging to dry between uses.
- If you use a sponge, disinfect it in the microwave on high for one minute if it’s moist, or 30 seconds if dry. Rinse sponges between uses and allow them to dry.
- Run your drain cover through the dishwasher regularly.
- If you are pregnant, you are at higher risk for getting sick from Listeria, a bacterium found in many foods. Listeriosis can affect your baby, and even cause a miscarriage. Find out how to protect your baby and yourself from Listeriosis in pregnancy. Also available in Spanish.
- Find out more on this page from the USDA: Foodborne Illness: What Consumers Need to Know. It’s also available in Spanish.
If there's no visible dirt on your hands, alcohol-based (at least 60%), hand sanitizing gels may be a good alternative to hand washing. It turns out that they are great at cleaning your hands, and less drying than soap and water. Plus, you may have more luck getting your kids to sanitize their hands when they come home from school or after blowing their noses than getting them to wash with soap and water.
Use caution with small children. Sanitizing gels contain mostly ethyl alcohol, and are toxic if swallowed. Keep out of reach of children. Avoid buying brands with fruit or other appealing scents that may tempt kids to taste them.
What are some other food safety tips?
- Do not store food in antique, decorative, or ornamental ceramic containers or lead crystal. These may contain lead, which can leach into the food or beverage. Find out more about lead poisoning.
- Do not microwave in containers not specifically designed for microwaving. Microwavable glass is the safest bet. Tiny particles from plastics can migrate into your food at high temperatures. Mounting evidence shows that certain additives in plastics are a health concern to humans and may play a role in early puberty.
- Bisphenol-A or BPA is an ingredient in hard, clear, unbreakable plastic called polycarbonate. Many plastic reusable water bottles and the linings of food and baby formula cans contain BPA. Animal studies indicate it’s not safe for humans, especially babies.
- Women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children need to be careful of mercury in fish and seafood. Mercury is toxic. Find out: What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish—from the EPA. Offered in Cambodian, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.
- YourChild: Choking Prevention
- YourChild: Feeding Your Baby and Child
- YourChild: Feeding Your Child and Teen
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan.
Updated October 2009
U-M Health System Related Sites: