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July 2000  -  Volume 3  -  Issue 5

An Ounce of Prevention Keeps the Germs Away
National Center for Infectious Diseases

Almost everyone has experienced a foodborne illness at some point in time. But do we only get sick from restaurant food? No, in fact many cases of foodborne illnesses occur when food is prepared at home. If food is handled and prepared safely, most of those can be avoided. All food may contain some natural bacteria, and improper handling gives the bacteria a chance to grow. Also, food can be contaminated with bacteria from other sources that can make you ill. Contaminated or unclean food can be very dangerous, especially to children and the elderly.

Each year foodborne illnesses kill up to 9,000 people. They also cause fever, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea in almost 80 million Americans, or about 1 in 3 people.

There are four major tips you can use to prevent contaminating food.

Use caution when you buy your food.
  • Buy perishable food such as meat, eggs, and milk last.
  • Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk.
  • Because eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry are most likely to contain bacteria, do not allow their juices to drip on other food.
  • Shop for groceries when you can take food home right away so that it does not spoil in a hot car.

Store your food properly.

  • Store eggs, raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator.
  • Use containers to prevent contaminating other foods or kitchen surfaces.
  • Your refrigerator should be set at 40.
  • Your freezer should be set at 0.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect the refrigerator and freezer.

Use special precautions when preparing and cooking food.

  • Wash your hands and clean and disinfect kitchen surfaces before, during and after handling, cooking, and serving food.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Defrost frozen food on a plate either in the refrigerator or in a microwave, but not on the counter.
  • Cook food immediately after defrosting.
  • Use different dishes and utensils for raw foods than you use for cooked foods.

The most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. By frequently washing your hands you wash away germs that you have picked up from other people, or from contaminated surfaces, or from animals and animal waste.

What happens if you do not wash your hands frequently?

You pick up germs from other sources and then you infect yourself when you

  • Touch your eyes
  • Or your nose
  • Or your mouth.
  • One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus.

You can also spread germs directly to others or onto surfaces that other people touch. And before you know it, everybody around you is getting sick.

The important thing to remember is that, in addition to colds, some pretty serious diseases like hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea can easily be prevented if people make a habit of washing their hands.

When should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands often. Probably more often than you do now because you can't see germs with the naked eye or smell them, so you do not really know where they are hiding.

It is especially important to wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat, and after you use the bathroom
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • When your hands are dirty, and
  • More frequently when someone in your home is sick.

What is the correct way to wash your hands?

  • First wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain. Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue for 10 _ 15 seconds or about the length of a little tune. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands.

It is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom. So these tips are also important when you are out in public.


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