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Food Safety Feature Articles


Keeping food safe, washing hands key to reducing foodborne illnesses


Everyone is at risk for foodborne illness or food poisoning when large amounts of bacteria multiply and make it into our bodies.


“Bacteria are everywhere. They can live on your skin, under your fingernails, on pets, and, of course, on food. Most people don’t have to worry about harmful bacteria in small amounts because our bodies can manage it. But under the right conditions, bacteria can double in number every 20 to 30 minutes,” said Tammy Roberts, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.


That means it is our job to keep bacteria from multiplying.


“We can lessen our chances of having foodborne illness if we wash our hands often, keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate, cook to proper temperatures and keep the refrigerator set at 40 degrees F or below,” said Roberts.


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said nearly half of all foodborne illness could be prevented with proper hand washing. Washing your hands with soap and water before handling food can assure you are not spreading bacteria to your food, said Roberts.


According to Roberts, bacteria love foods with protein — meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk. These foods require special handling so bacteria are not allowed to grow. The first rule is to never thaw meat on the kitchen counter. The outside of the meat thaws first and although the inside is still thawing, the outside can reach 40 degrees or higher and grow bacteria.


“Make sure to put meat in the freezer or refrigerator immediately after you get home and use meat in the refrigerator promptly. The juice from meat also contains bacteria. If it drips onto other foods, it can contaminate those foods and make them unsafe,” said Roberts.


In order to kill the bacteria, meat must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. The use of a meat thermometer is recommended to assure meat is cooked safely. It is also important to make sure the refrigerator is keeping food under 40 degrees. In the refrigerator, bacteria can still multiply, but at slow rates. In the freezer, bacteria growth stops but starts again once temperatures reach 40 degrees and above.


“You cannot smell the bacteria in foods that make you sick. When a food is spoiled by a microorganism, it causes the food to smell. The bacteria that cause foodborne illness can’t be detected by looking at the food or smelling it. So, when in doubt, throw it out,” said Roberts.


For more information on nutrition issues, go online to or contact Tammy Roberts at (417) 682-3579.



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