Intermountain Healthcare

Protecting Against Foodborne Illness


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 09/26/2021 --While occasionally dismissed by people as a minor inconvenience of feeling sick after consuming unsafe food, the problems with foodborne illness and food safety in general have the potential to be very serious.

Christie Benton, dietitian with the Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital LiVe Well Center, said one familiar adage is the safest way to go: When in doubt, throw it out.

"We're all aware when cases of foodborne illness happen — whether after a party or dining at a certain restaurant," Benton said. "But food safety is all about preventing foodborne illness. We want food to be safe to consume."

In a general sense, food safety in encompasses everything that takes place from production to consumer.

"The health department is in charge of health and safety inspections and will note someone who is out of compliance," Benton said. "We don't see a whole lot of that in our area."

Benton added that more widespread issues, such as salmonella outbreaks or specific foods recalled for listeria or E Coli have certainly impacted this region over the years, but the biggest influence individuals can have on food safety is to remember proper food handling in their own homes.

"Clean, separate, chill and cook," Benton said, reciting the four-word campaign from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as the CDC and FDA, to focus on food safety both commercially and at home.

"Clean means cleaning your hands before you start and cleaning the surfaces and dishes in the kitchen in between cooking projects," Benton said. "Everything needs to be clean."

As you cook, it's important to keep raw foods separate from cooked foods.

"We certainly don't want to cut up raw chicken on a board and then put the cooked chicken back on the same board," Benton said. "In commercial cooking, they often have color-coded boards to separate raw from cooked, and to keep seafood, beef, vegetables and more all separated."

Foods should only be in the "danger zone" between 40 and 140 degrees for a few hours, Benton said. "If you have hot food coming out of the oven, use what you need and get it back to 40 degrees or less as soon as possible."

"You want to get as much surface area exposed to the cold fridge temperatures as possible," Benton added. For example, using a shallow pan to cool soup more quickly in the fridge is safer than putting a large pot of soup in to cool.

On the other side of the coin, make sure food is cooked thoroughly and reheated to 165 degrees, Benton said.

"Don't trust your touch when determining if a food feels warm enough," Benton said. "Use a thermometer. The outside may feel hot, but the food could still be cold on the inside."

One of the common missteps people make in their own kitchen, Benton said, is when it comes to thawing meat for a meal.

"Throwing meat on the counter to thaw is a big problem," Benton said. "You've got warmer air thawing the exterior and is now exposed to bacteria in the danger zone, but the interior of the roast, for example, stays frozen."

The best option is to pull frozen meat out a day or two in advance and leave it in the fridge to thaw. However, Benton said she knows people don't always think that far ahead. In that case, most microwaves have a setting for thawing food; just remember it must be cooked immediately after it is thawed.

"There are some foodborne illnesses we can get over in a day or two of being sick at home, but there are others that can be serious enough to land you in the hospital," Benton said. "Always check food dates before you buy and stick to the rules for keeping things safe in your kitchen."

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Healthcare or the Intermountain Healthcare Blog.