Food Safety: What Consumers Should Know

Safe steps in handling, cooking, and storing food are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow these four guidelines to keep food safe:
  • Clean -- Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate -- Don't cross-contaminate
  • Cook -- Cook to proper temperatures
  • Chill -- Refrigerate promptly

Bacteria in food can cause illness. There are thousands of types of bacteria naturally present in our environment. Not all bacteria cause disease in humans. For example, some bacteria are used in making cheese and yogurt. Bacteria that do cause disease are called pathogens. When certain pathogens enter the food supply, they can cause foodborne illness.

Foodborne illness often has flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever.   Millions of cases of foodborne illness occur each year. Most can be prevented through the proper handling, cooking or processing of food. Age and physical condition place some persons at higher risk than others for foodborne illness. Very young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are those most “at risk” from any pathogen.

How Bacteria Get in Food

Bacteria may be on products when you buy them. Raw or uncooked meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs are not sterile. Neither is fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, and melons. Even precooked, ready-to-eat foods can become contaminated with bacteria that has been transferred from raw products, meat juices or other contaminated items, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene.

The “Danger Zone”

Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F. To keep food out of this “danger zone,” keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

• Store food in the refrigerator (40°F or below) or freezer (0°F or below).

• Cook foods to 165°F (145°F is okay for whole cuts of beef veal, and lamb).

• Maintain hot cooked food at 140°F or above.

• When reheating cooked food, reheat to 165°F.

Seek treatment as necessary if you or someone you know show symptoms of a foodborne illness. If the victim is a very young child, a pregnant women, an older adult or a person with a compromised immune system, seek medical care immediately. Also get medical attention if the symptoms persist or are severe (such as bloody diarrhea, excessive nausea and vomiting, or high temperature).

Preserve the evidence. If a portion of the suspected food is available, wrap it securely, mark the wrapper with “DANGER” and refrigerate it. Save the packaging materials, such as cans or cartons. Write down the food type, the date, and other identifying marks on the package, the time and date the food was consumed, and when the onset of symptoms occurred. Save any identical unopened products.

Call your local health department if the suspect food was served at a large gathering, from a restaurant or other food service facility, or if it is a commercial product.

For additional information, you may call the Department of Consumer Protection Food and Standards Division at (860) 713—6160.

Additional Resources:

Connecticut Department of Public Health
Food Protection Program
(860) 509—7297                         

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

FDA Food Safety Information Service
1-888-SAFEFOOD                    Website