How to Prevent Food Poisoning


Millions of Americans get food poisoning every year. Not to be confused with a stomach virus, food poisoning is caused by eating food that is contaminated with bacteria, like E. coli. Foodborne illnesses can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and a headache. In some cases, food poisoning can even be life-threatening.

Learn how to avoid the disease-causing bacteria or pathogens that can contaminate food. And what to do if you experience symptoms.

How to avoid contaminated food

Most food poisoning instances occur when food is not handled, prepared, or stored safely. The three biggest factors you can control include:

While shopping

Inspect your fresh items like poultry and produce for damaged seals, wrappers, or other packaging. Don't forget to check the sell-by date on all foods and plan meals accordingly. 

While preparing your food

Always wash your hands before and after handling food and be sure to use clean tools and surfaces. Use separate tools for raw meat so you don’t  transfer potentially harmful bacteria to other foods or surfaces. When you’re finished cooking, clean your utensils and surfaces thoroughly to wash away any remaining bacteria.

Fresh produce (like lettuce or spinach) is another common source of bacteria, so be sure to rinse it thoroughly under running water. Remove surface dirt by using a small veggie brush and always cut out bruised or damaged areas.

Storing your food

Once you've prepared your foods, it’s important to ensure they stay at the correct temperature, since food can continue to grow bacteria that can make you sick. If food sits out for more than two hours, especially in warm conditions, it should be thrown away.

Keep hot foods hot

Cook your meats to a safe temperature to kill E. coli and other bacteria that may be in the meat. One way to be sure your meat is cooked safely is to use a food thermometer. Follow these temperature guidelines when cooking meat:

Ground meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb) At least 160°F
Fresh beef, veal, lamb, pork, and fish (steak, roasts, chops) At least 145°F
Poultry (including turkey and chicken) At least 165°F
Leftovers and casseroles At least 165°F
Eggs Cook until the yolks and whites are firm

Also, be sure to cook chicken stuffing or turkey stuffing separately. Don’t cook it inside the bird.

Keep cold foods cold

  • Cold foods should stay below 40°F (4°C). 
  • Put cold foods in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as you bring them home. Don’t leave them in the car while running other errands.
  • Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator or in the microwave — not on the counter.
  • Pack picnics and school lunches in an insulated bag with an ice pack.

If you think you have food poisoning 

Food poisoning can often have the same symptoms as the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). If you’re experiencing the diarrhea and vomiting often associated with these illnesses, follow these tips, including when to seek care.

  • Rest and drink plenty of liquids
  • Avoid solid foods until you feel better
  • Don’t take medicine for diarrhea unless instructed by your medical provider

If you experience the following symptoms and/or have one of the following conditions, you should seek care immediately and visit your nearest Munson Healthcare emergency department.

  • Severe symptoms, such as bloody vomit or diarrhea
  • Symptoms for more than 12 hours
  • A heart that is racing, pounding, or skipping beats
  • Trouble breathing
  • Elderly age
  • Stomach or colon problems
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Hemochromatosis
  • A weak immune system
  • Signs of dehydration such as extreme thirst, dizziness, not much urine, weakness, or lightheadedness
  • Botulism, which can be fatal. Symptoms trouble swallowing, breathing, or urinating, dry mouth, double vision, or drooping eyelids. 

Need help? Ask a Nurse!

Are you concerned about your symptoms? 

Munson Healthcare’s Ask-A-Nurse hotline is available at no charge 24 hours a day. A registered nurse can help you determine next steps and can even connect you to a virtual visit! Call 231-935-0951 to talk to a nurse now. No insurance is required. 

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