Practicing food safety at home can stop most germs and bacteria from multiplying to levels that can make you and your family ill.
Since none of us want to deal with a tummy-ache we could have easily prevented, safe food handling is our best preventative weapon.
While most pathogens that occur naturally in uncooked foods are killed by proper cooking, many germs can spread long before you pop the entree into the oven.
These food safety tips can help keep everything you prepare for dinner contaminant-free.
The most common food contaminants - E. coli, hepatitis A, and salmonella - can find their way onto a sponge or dishcloth; you, in turn, can then spread the bacteria all over your kitchen unless you make an effort to stop them.
The single most important thing you can do to ensure your family's health and food safety is to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing raw meat and vegetables.
This will prevent you from spreading meat-, poultry- or fish-borne bacteria onto refrigerator doors, cabinet handles, and countertops, where they'll be lying in wait next time you reach for a leftover slice of pizza.
In addition to washing your hands, you can help prevent cross-contamination by washing utensils used to prepare raw items in hot, soapy water immediately after use.
That includes all knives, cutting boards, and serving platters that have held raw meat, fish, or poultry.
When grilling, don't serve meat on the same platter that you used to carry it outside before cooking. Either wash the original plate or use another when it comes time to serve the cooked goods.
If your kitchen counter comes in contact with even a drop of juice from uncooked meat, poultry, or fish, clean up the area with hot, soapy water and paper towels - not the sponge you use daily.
To kill all the germs, however, you'll need to clean the surface with a mild bleach solution (one-part bleach to nine parts water) or use a commercial disinfectant.
Keep all kitchen surfaces dry; bacteria can survive no more than a few hours when moisture is eliminated.
Even your kitchen sponges and dishcloths - the very items that are supposed to help you get rid of lurking germs - can be part of the problem unless you clean them regularly.
Replace sponges every two weeks.
Regularly throw dishcloths in the washing
machine - and always use hot water and bleach.
Experts recommend using a plastic cutting board (not wood) for raw meats - it is less likely to harbor bacteria.
Wash in hot, soapy water after each use.
Always eat food while it's hot and refrigerate leftovers promptly. Prepared or cut food, including fruit, should not sit unrefrigerated for more than two hours in cold weather, one hour when it's warm.
If the food item has been left out, toss it.
Always store eggs in the fridge, and discard those with cracked or broken shells.
Resist the urge to taste-test if you're unsure about something - even a small amount of contaminated food can make you very ill. Put dates on leftovers in the fridge so that you can use them within a safe period - usually a few days.
Determining a food's safety by odor or appearance is risky; spoilage isn't always evident.
Finally, wash produce before you eat or cook it to remove surface germs. That way, you won't contaminate other surfaces after touching these foods.
Cook to these internal temperatures:
Serving and Storing