Recognize food spoilage and learn how to prevent it
Many people do not think about the perils of food poisoning until they hear of one or more people getting sick from foods they have consumed. Foodborne illnesses send roughly 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year, and account for 3,000 deaths annually, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly one in six people will get sick from a food they’ve consumed this year.
Food poisoning may occur when foods are not properly washed or cooked to adequate temperatures to kill pathogens. After eating foods that have been sitting out at room temperature for too long, which enables pathogens to multiply, people can easily get sick. Sometimes people get sick from food that has spoiled in the refrigerator or even in its original packaging. Learning about food spoilage and related illnesses can help people avoid falling victim to food poisoning.
Why food spoils
Food can spoil for many different reasons.
• Moisture: Foods that have a high water content can decompose more quickly than those that don’t. Moisture in foods allows microorganisms to dissolve food they use, and can cause chemical reactions to occur in foods. Molding, caking and lumping of products can result from humidity or moisture getting into drier foods. Condensation can cause bacteria and molds to grow.
• Oxygen: Oxidative spoilage can cause loss of fats and fatty portions of foods. Oxygen can affect food colors, and compromise the nutritional value and flavor of certain foods. Vacuum packaging keeps air out of foods to prevent spoilage.
• Microorganisms: Certain microorganisms may be present on or in foods and will proliferate with moisture, heat and oxygen.
• Temperature: When temperatures are not controlled properly, food can spoil. It is essential that foods are stored, cooked and served at the proper temperature.
The Danger Zone
Pathogenic spoilage occurs when foods are exposed to temperatures between 40 F and 140F, which is dubbed “The Danger Zone.” The USDA recommends keeping cold food below 40 F (4.4 C) and hot food at or above 140 F (60 C) to prevent it from going bad.
Food preparation necessities
The CDC recommends these four steps to additionally prevent food spoilage and illness:
1. Clean: Wash hands and food-preparation surfaces often.
2. Separate: Do not cross-contaminate hands, surfaces and prepared foods with raw foods.
3. Cook: Cook all foods to the recommended temperature.
4. Chill: Refrigerate cold foods promptly. Germs can grow in as little as two hours at room temperature.
Recognize food spoilage
People without an acute sense of smell and eyesight, such as the elderly, may be at greater risk of food spoilage that can make them sick than younger people. Food that is going bad tends to develop unpleasant odors and textures. The health and food resource Nutronics Health says that most fresh or recently cooked food leftovers should only be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Showcase foods that will spoil quickly by keeping them in a visible spot. An Uncluttered Life advises discarding items that have been stored in the freezer for more than six months.
Staying safe and healthy means keeping an eye on how foods are handled and stored, and taking steps to prevent spoilage.