Lettuce down: Best ways to avoid food-borne illness

Sally Squires, Lean Plate Club, on how to avoid food-borne illnesses.

WASHINGTON — The latest E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, highlights the importance of food safety from the farm to the kitchen.

Sally Squires, who writes for the Lean Plate Club™ blog, noted numbers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show about 48 million people annually — roughly one in every six Americans — get sick from a food-borne illness.

About 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and roughly 3,000 die each year from food-borne illnesses, according to numbers from the CDC.

Squires said most of these illnesses occur within one to three days of eating the tainted food, according to the Food and Drug Administration — but the timing of illnesses can vary.

One could get sick within 20 minutes or up to six weeks after eating tainted food.

So how do we minimize the risk? Squires broke it down to two key steps.


Squires recommended washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after food preparation, using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.

All cutting boards should be washed with hot, soapy water as well.

Squires has a specific suggestion for drying your hands.

“If you can, the preference is to use paper towels,” she said. “But if you’re averse to that, you want to make sure those cloth towels are washed frequently and they’re going in hot, not warm, water.”


Squires said it’s crucial to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from other foods.

That is true whether it is in the grocery store, in shopping bags, in the refrigerator or even on the counter.

This tip also extends to the cooking process itself.

Squires said marinades for raw foods should not be reused unless you boil it first. Also make sure not to place cooked food on a plate that had raw food on it unless you wash the plate first.

Squires said cooking and chilling food at the proper temperature is an additional way to stay healthy. Using a thermometer when cooking helps.

While most new fridges have built-in thermometers, double check to make sure it stays at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

You’ll want to make sure your freezer stays at zero degrees or less.

And if you’re still not sure about the food you’ve purchased?

“When in doubt, throw it out,” Squires said.

You can find more information on food safety on the federal government’s food safety website.To contact MedWatch, FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program, call 1-800-FDA-1088 or file a voluntary report on the FDA’s website.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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