How to avoid food poisoning

Ban buffet bacteria, prevent cross-contamination and store leftovers safely with these tips from a food safety expert.

What is food poisoning?
The holidays always herald an abundance of food -- and with that comes an increased potential for food poisoning. Here's how to reduce your risk of picking up a foodborne bug this season.

What exactly is food poisoning, anyway?
Food poisoning is caused by ingesting certain bacteria, viruses or parasites -- and it's more common than you might think. In fact, according to Paul Medeiros, director of food safety and quality consulting services at the Guelph Food Technology Centre in Guelph, Ont., roughly one out of every three Canadians falls prey to a foodborne illness -- which includes the likes of salmonella, E. coli and Listeria -- each year. But since the symptoms, which include cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches, resemble those of the stomach flu, that's where we tend to lay the blame.

"You've heard people say, 'I've just got a 24-hour stomach flu,'" says Medeiros. "But guess what? There is no such thing as a 24-hour flu bug. What they've likely picked up in that instance is food poisoning."

Although in extreme cases, food poisoning can be fatal -- especially among seniors and those with weakened immune systems -- healthy individuals do not, for the most part, suffer serious consequences from eating contaminated food. The best remedy in most cases is plenty of rest and mild (and fresh!) foods. At the first sign of severe symptoms, however, do not hesitate to seek medical attention.

How can I curb contamination in my kitchen?
To start, make it a habit to scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after you handle food. Next, keep raw and cooked foods separate to prevent cross-contamination. Both knives and cutting boards can be bacterial hot spots, so it's important to scrub them thoroughly with soap to avoid transferring germs from raw foods to other cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

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