Dr. Wood: Don’t let your home cooking make you and your family sick

Washing the outside of a melon before cutting it keeps you from contaminating the inside of the melon.
Washing the outside of a melon before cutting it keeps you from contaminating the inside of the melon. AP file photo

Food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness or foodborne disease) is an illness usually caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, virus, parasites, or fungus in food. These microorganisms cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled, and can multiply quickly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food poisoning causes an estimated 48 million illnesses — 1 out of 6 Americans — with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Potentially hazardous foods are foods that support rapid growth of foodborne illness microorganisms, most of which contain protein or have a high moisture content. Potentially hazardous foods include:

  • Meat, fish, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products

  • Cooked rice, beans, pasta, potatoes

  • Cooked vegetables

  • Tofu

  • Sprouts (such as alfalfa or bean sprouts)

  • Cut melons, cut tomatoes and cut leafy greens

  • Garlic or herbs bottled in oil

There are four simple steps to keeping your food safe: clean, separate, cook, and chill.


  • Wash hands and surfaces often.

  • Make sure to clean everything that comes into contact with food with warm soapy water – hands (20 seconds), counters, utensils, cutting boards, food thermometer, storage containers, refrigerator.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables (not meat, poultry or eggs!) under running water, scrubbing when necessary. Scrubbing melons before cutting them prevents bacteria on the surface from getting into the melon.

  • It’s important to wash your hands before you prepare food, or eat it, but other times too: after using the restroom; after handling raw meat, fish, eggs, or poultry; after handling garbage or dirty dishes; after taking a break, eating, drinking, or smoking; after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose; after touching animals or using chemicals.


  • Prevent cross-contaminating safe food with unsafe foods and surfaces.

  • Wash hands for 20 seconds in warm, soapy water before handling food.

  • Separate meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from ready-to-eat foods (such as fruits and vegetables) in your grocery cart. Use plastic bags for raw meats.

  • Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator. Keep raw meats in a tray to keep juices away from other foods, and store it below your fruits and vegetables when possible.

  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs (or wash thoroughly between uses).


  • Cook foods to proper temperatures. Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful illness-causing bacteria.

  • Cook all foods to safe temperatures by using a food thermometer. These are available at most grocery and hardware stores.

  • Keep hot foods over 135 degrees while serving and holding foods.

  • Heat all leftovers to 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria.


  • Cold temperatures (41 degrees or lower) slow the growth of illness causing bacteria. Invest in a refrigerator thermometer to make sure your fridge is the right temperature. They are available in most grocery and hardware stores.

  • Place perishable groceries in refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours after purchase. Grocery shopping should be your last errand on a busy day. Note: You have one hour if it is over 90 degrees outside.

  • Thaw and marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the counter.

  • Place leftovers in refrigerator uncovered within two hours of the food being cooked. Note: You have one hour if food is outside and it is over 90 degrees.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. There are food safety tips available online for your turkey. To learn more about food safety, go to https://www.foodsafety.gov/

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.