Safe at the Plate: How to Avoid Food Poisoning

These food-safety measures can help you stay healthy at home and while traveling

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Let me set the scene for you: You finally arrive at your hotel for that long-awaited vacation to the Caribbean, you're greeted by a glass of bubbly champagne at check-in and you book a breathtaking sunset sail for your first evening. The appetizers served on board don't look too appetizing to you, but hubby tries a few and ... gets food poisoning!

Bonnie Taub-Dix
Bonnie Taub-Dix
As I sit here writing this blog, and after a night of multiple visits to the porcelain bowl, my favorite traveling companion is asleep in the room. We expected this vacation to be a release ... but not this way.

[See Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?]

The reason I didn't get sick is because I didn't partake in the offerings on the boat ride. Although some might say I'm a bit obsessed, I consider myself a food safety sleuth. In case you didn't know, a dietitian's motto is "When in doubt, throw it out." Or more graphically, "Better to pass it up then throw it up!" (This story is not for the squeamish!)

Especially in a warm climate, it's important to be vigilant about how food is handled. Each year, more than 76 million Americans are sickened by foodborne illnesses, which affect all age, ethnic and income groups. Although we're quick to point fingers at restaurants and food companies for causing uncomfortable side effects, it's our responsibility to take action by keep ourselves from getting sick from food.

Here are some food-safety measures you can practice at home and keep in mind when traveling:

• Keep hot food hot (temperatures between 160 degrees to 212 degrees Fahrenheit destroy most bacteria).

• Keep cold food cold (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below).

• If you're watching your weight, it could be a good practice to leave some food over, but leftovers should not stay out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours. In hot weather (90 degrees Fahrenheit or above), this time is reduced to one hour.

• Cook food thoroughly, following the food safety label found on packages. A food thermometer is an inexpensive investment that could save you money in doctor bills.

• Keep raw food, such as meat and poultry, separate from produce and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination, and keep work surfaces clean. The use of color-coded cutting boards makes this a simple practice.

• Be aware of the tools used during cooking. Never use the same utensils for raw meat, poultry or seafood as you would use to prepare produce or ready-to-eat foods without thoroughly washing them.

• Be sure to wash your hands before, during and after handling food. Proper hand-washing may eliminate nearly half of all cases of food poisoning, and can even significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.

• For more on why it's so important to clean, separate, cook and chill, visit foodsafety.gov, HomeFoodSafety.org and cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases.

Perhaps it's also important to take a closer look at your eating behaviors, and not just look at the foods you're eating. No one will remember how great their food tasted if they got sick after it was swallowed.

[See Video: Top Chefs Talk Healthy Eating.]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.