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13 Things You Need to Know About Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is uncomfortable—and can even be downright dangerous. Here's how you can avoid falling ill.

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Filet mignon with roasted head of garlicPhoto: Shutterstock

It’s impossible to tell whether beef is ready by looking at it

“There’s a slogan at Health Canada,” says Jeffrey Farber, a food-science professor at the University of Guelph. “Your burger’s done at 71!” (That’s degrees Celsius, to be precise). Home chefs should use a meat thermometer.

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Medium rare steak with chive butterPhoto: Shutterstock

If you like your steak medium rare, don’t fret

You can get away with cooking it to 63 C. “The process of grinding meat can introduce bacteria from the grinding surface,” says Farber, while more intact cuts only have bacteria on the surface.

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Open fridge door with eggs and dairyPhoto: Shutterstock

Keep your fridge at 4 C

That’s according to Lawrence Goodridge, the Ian and Jayne Munro chair in food safety at McGill University. “Anything above that and bacteria can potentially grow.” When food is kept between 4 C and 60 C, bacteria may double in as little as 20 minutes.

Find out the difference between stomach bugs and food poisoning.

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Hand opening refrigerator doorPhoto: Shutterstock

Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking

That even goes for pizza, rice and vegetables. Reheat those meals to 74 C, says Goodridge. Bacteria can grow while food is in the fridge, so don’t eat leftovers cold.

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Chicken breast defrostingPhoto: Shutterstock

The safest way to defrost meat is slowly in the fridge

You can also thaw it in cold water, says Farber—it maintains a consistent temperature.

Here are 12 things you should never microwave.

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Pre-cut, pre-washed saladPhoto: Shutterstock

Resist the temptation to buy precut salad, even if it’s prewashed

“If vegetables are contaminated during processing, there’s nothing [you] can do,” Goodridge explains. Rinsing greens doesn’t remove bacteria—only cooking will.

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Young child making food in kitchen with her motherPhoto: Shutterstock

Non-food items can give you food poisoning

Homemade playdough, for example, was linked to E. coli outbreaks in 2016 and 2017 that sickened at least 30 people in Canada. Wash your hands thoroughly after playtime to avoid falling ill.

Here are 13 things you didn’t know about germs.

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Pet parrotPhoto: Shutterstock

Be careful while handling your scaly or feathered friends

April Hexemer, a manager of the outbreak management division at the Public Health Agency of Canada points out that birds, reptiles and amphibians can carry salmonella. Wash your hands carefully after feeding and touching these pets or being in their environments.

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Reuben sandwichPhoto: Shutterstock

Your sickness probably wasn’t caused by the last thing you ate

Campylobacteriosis, the most frequently reported foodborne illness in Canada, produces symptoms anywhere from two to five days after exposure, says Hexemer. Salmonella shows up after one to three days and E. coli infection after one to 10.

Don’t forget about the surprisingly dirty kitchen items you never think to clean.

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Provolone cheesePhoto: Shutterstock

Forget the best-before date

It refers only to freshness and quality, says Goodridge. Instead, acquaint yourself with safety guidelines for specific foods. Deli meats, hot dogs and soft cheeses, for example, are associated with listeria, a type of bacteria that can grow in cold temperatures. Consume these foods within two to three days of opening them.

Never, ever ignore these six expiration dates.

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Woman smelling pastryPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t rely on the smell test

“The bacteria that spoil food are not the same as those that make us sick,” says Goodridge. If the food smells, it’s not safe to eat, but a lack of odour doesn’t guarantee it’s edible. Aim to consume leftovers within two to three days to avoid food poisoning.

Check out these six foods you had no idea you could freeze.

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Inside of doctor's roomPhoto: Shutterstock

If you think you’ve contracted a foodborne illness, go to the doctor or the hospital

If you don’t, says Goodridge, public health professionals won’t know that you got sick. Reporting your illness helps alert the correct authorities and gets contamin­ated food recalled faster.

Read up on the nine foods you should never eat raw.

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Doctor with patientPhoto: Shutterstock

If you have a severe case of bacterial food poisoning, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics

Otherwise, focus on replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, getting lots of rest and reintroducing solid foods.

Next, check out the best meals to eat when you feel your worst.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada