According to the United States federal government, one in six Americans—about 48 million people—will get food poisoning this year. Food poisoning happens when germs—bacteria or viruses—contaminate food or drink. Once your child consumes food contaminated with these germs, they release toxins that cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms of food poisoning.
Kids generally get sick quickly after eating infected food—sometimes in as little as a few hours. While food poisoning can be miserable, it generally goes away quickly, with most people recovering in a couple of days. Still, over 100,000 people per year are hospitalized with food poisoning. In rare cases, it can cause serious, long-term issues such as chronic arthritis, kidney problems, nerve and brain damage, and even death.
Food poisoning is transmitted in a variety of ways, and we do not always have full control over whether the food we buy is contaminated with harmful bacteria. However, the chance of getting food poisoning is greatly reduced when families adhere to the following good hygiene, food handling, and food storage practices:
- Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds using soap and warm running water after using the bathroom, before preparing food, and after touching raw food (plant- or animal- based).
- Set your refrigerator to between 32º F and 40º F and your freezer to 0º F.
- Put perishable food away within two hours—one hour in summer months.
- Clean kitchen utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces with warm, soapy water before using them to prepare food.
- Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs to avoid cross-contamination. Wash the cutting boards and plates thoroughly after using.
- Do not serve unpasteurized milk or any food containing unpasteurized dairy products.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables—even if you intend to peel them. The peel could be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Rinse delicate produce with cold water. Rinse thick-skinned produce with cold water and scrub with a clean produce brush.
- Keep raw foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Use perishable foods as quickly as possible.
- Use a food thermometer to cook all animal-based foods to a safe internal temperature.
- Cover and refrigerate leftovers quickly—within an hour or two.
- Defrost food in a microwave, cold water, or refrigerator—never at room temperature.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator—not on the counter.
- Do not eat food that looks or tastes funny or is past the expiration date. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Do not drink water from streams or untreated wells.
Following the food safety guidelines listed above will help you to protect your kids from the unpleasant and possibly dangerous effects of food poisoning. David Todd, an Austin child injury attorney at the Todd Law Firm, is committed to promoting child safety. As an expert in the area of personal injury, he can help if your child has been injured and you need legal advice. Call David at 512-472-7799 for a free case review or download a free copy of his book Seven Deadly Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Texas Accident Case for more information.