Each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans – or 48 million people – will experience some form of foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that number, 128,000 people will be hospitalized, and 3,000 will die. It's perhaps because of that wide scale severity that the National Safety Council observes National Food Safety Education Month in September.

"Each year, 48 million Americans experience some form of foodborne illness."

To keep your meals safe and healthy for this month and beyond, consider the following five tips:

1. Follow the four steps
To promote proper food safety, the United States Department of Agriculture created a four-step process for all families. Cleaning is perhaps the most important step. Not only should you wash your hands before handling food, but kitchen surfaces must be cleaned frequently. Next, always keep food items separate; cross-contamination increases bacterial spread. Another way to reduce the risk of bacteria is to ensure food is chilled promptly. Finally, cooking items to their prescribed temperature can kill off nasty bacteria.

2. Maintain proper storage
A large number of foodborne illnesses are the result of improperly stored foods. As mentioned above, it's important to refrigerate food right away, usually under two hours. It's also essential to cook items like fish and ground meats within two days, while pork or lamb can wait up to five days. How food is wrapped can also have a sizable effect, and using plastic wrap or tin foil are effective options. And though canned foods can last almost indefinitely if kept above freezing temperatures, they should be tossed if swollen or dented.

3. Keep an eye on temperature
Temperature is a huge part of food safety, and even just a few degrees difference can all but ruin otherwise safe and tasty food. That's why it's always a good idea to have a refrigerator thermometer handy. The optimal temperature for most items is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and this range all but halts the activity of harmful bacteria. You also want to use a thermometer whenever you're cooking and be aware of the proper temperatures for the different type of meat:

  • Poultry: 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fish: 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ground beef and pork: 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Watch how you serve
As essential as proper storage and cooking can be to preventing foodborne illnesses, it's also vital you consider how you're serving food. Keep the two-hour rule in mind whenever you've put out a meal, and anything left out for longer must be tossed right away. When food is out on the dining table, consider using warming trays or bowls of ice to maintain the right temperature. And speaking of temperature, using several smaller serving platters can also keep dishes from getting too hot or cold.

5. Seek out help as needed
No matter how safe you are, some foodborne illness is unavoidable. When you start to feel queasy, you can always seek medical treatment at your nearest CareWell Urgent Care Center. With convenient locations across the Eastern Seaboard, CareWell's team of physicians can treat the symptoms and get you feeling better in no time.