Some bacteria are used beneficially
Thousands of types of bacteria are naturally present in our environment. Not all bacteria cause disease in humans (for example, some bacteria are used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt). However, the prime causes of food-borne illness include parasites, viruses, and bacteria such as:
1. E. coli O157:H7
2. Campylobacter jejuni
4. Staphylococcus aureus
5. Listeria monocytogenes
6. Clostridium perfringens
7. Vibrio parahaemolyticus
8. Vibrio vulnificus
9. Hepatitis A virus, and
10. Norwalk and Norwalk-like virus
Bacteria that cause disease are called pathogens. These organisms can become unwelcome guests at the dinner table. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause food-borne illness. They're in a wide range of foods, including meat, milk and other dairy products, spices, chocolate, seafood, and even water. Millions of cases of food-borne illness occur each year.
Most cases of food-borne illness can be prevented. Careless food handling sets the stage for the growth of disease- causing "bugs." For example, hot or cold foods left standing too long at room temperature provide an ideal climate for bacteria to grow. Proper cooking or processing of food destroys bacteria.
Fresh does not always mean safe. The organisms that cause food poisoning aren't the ones that cause spoilage. Wax often coats certain kinds of produce, such as apples and cucumbers, and may trap pesticides. To remove the wax, wash with very diluted dish detergent and a soft scrub brush, or peel (the best nutrients are often in the peel, however).
Foods may be cross contaminated when cutting boards and kitchen tools that have been used to prepare a contaminated food, such as raw chicken, aren't cleaned before being used for another food, such as vegetables.
How Bacteria Get In Food
Bacteria may be present on products when you buy them. Plastic-wrapped boneless chicken and ground meat, for example, were once part of live chicken or cattle. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs aren't sterile. Neither is fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons. Foods, including safely cooked, ready-to-eat foods, can become cross contaminated with bacteria transferred from raw products, meat juices or other contaminated products, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene.
Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices and ciders, foods made with raw or undercooked eggs, chicken, tuna, potato and macaroni salads, and cream-filled pastries harboring these pathogens have also been implicated in food-borne illnesses, as has fresh produce.
Poultry is the food most often contaminated with disease- causing organisms. It's been estimated that 60 percent or more of raw poultry sold at retail probably carries some disease-causing bacteria.
Bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Salmonella have been found in raw seafood. Oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, and cockles may be contaminated with hepatitis A virus.
If you have a health problem, especially one that may have impaired your immune system, don't eat raw shellfish and use only pasteurized milk and cheese, and pasteurized or concentrated ciders and juices.
Keep It Clean
The cardinal rule of safe food preparation in the home is: Keep everything clean.
The cleanliness rule applies to the areas where food is prepared and, most importantly, to the cook. Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before starting to prepare a meal and after handling raw meat or poultry. Cover long hair with a net or scarf, and be sure that any open sores or cuts on the hands are completely covered. If the sore or cut is infected, stay out of the kitchen.
Keep your work area clean and uncluttered. Be sure to wash the counter tops with a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to about 1 quart of water or with a commercial kitchen-cleaning agent diluted according to product directions. They're the most effective at getting rid of bacteria.
Also, be sure to keep dishcloths and sponges clean because, when wet, these materials harbor bacteria and may promote their growth. Wash dishcloths and sponges weekly in the washing machine in hot water.
While you're at it, sanitize the kitchen sink drain periodically by pouring down the sink a solution of one teaspoon bleach to one quart of water or a commercial cleaning agent. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal and, along with moistness, create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
Use smooth cutting boards made of hard maple or plastic and free of cracks and crevices. Avoid boards made of soft, porous materials. Wash cutting boards with hot water, soap, and a scrub brush. Then, sanitize them in an automatic dishwasher or by rinsing with a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to about 1 quart of water.
Always wash and sanitize cutting boards after using them for raw foods, such as seafood or chicken, and before using them for other foods. Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked, such as raw fish, and another only for ready-to-eat foods, such as bread, fresh fruit, and cooked fish. Visit The Cutting Board Factory for a great selection of food-safe cutting boards.
Always use clean utensils and wash them between cutting different foods.
Wash the lids of canned foods before opening to keep dirt from getting into the food. Also, clean the blade of the can opener after each use. Food processors and meat grinders should be taken apart and cleaned as soon as possible after they're used.
Don't put cooked meat on an unwashed plate or platter that has held raw meat.
Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, rinsing in warm water. Don't use soap or other detergents. If necessary (and appropriate) use a small scrub brush to remove surface dirt.
Keep your kitchen clean and bacteria-free. Clean kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water using antibacterial sponges and soaps.
The sponges themselves should be bacteria-free. Microwave them for about a minute to keep them clean and dry.
Keep benches, cutting boards, knives, pans or other utensils clean.