Since the novel coronavirus COVID-19 started spreading in the United States, consumers have been stocking up on essential supplies. Primarily, consumers have been stockpiling grocery items like never before. And while stocking up on essential food items is a good idea so you can limit your trips to the store, it poses a food safety risk that consumers may not consider. Perishable items stored in a freezer or refrigerator go bad. These items can quickly move from a little overripe or “borderline” to a serious food poisoning risk.
So how do you know that the foods you are stocking up on will be good in a few days or weeks? Here are some tips from the team at Bad Food Recall.
How Long do Fresh Foods Last in the Refrigerator or Freezer?
Fresh foods are items that are perishable, such as meat, fruit and vegetables. Unlike non-perishable items (canned or boxed goods), these items spoil much faster and are more susceptible to bacteria and germs. Dry goods may be safe and edible for a long time after the “use by” or “best by” dates. Consumers should eat fresh items sooner, however, to prevent possible food poisoning.
General food safety guidelines for refrigerated or frozen food suggest that frozen foods stored below zero degrees can be kept indefinitely. These items may experience freezer burn or discoloration, but they are generally safe to eat. Refrigerated foods last anywhere from three days to a few weeks depending on the item and if it is open or not.
Take a look at the following chart:
If you have purchased a large quantity of fresh vegetables or fruit and they are nearing their use by date, you should cook or freeze them immediately. Food waste is becoming one of many concerns related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Consumers are wasting more food because they stockpiled and cannot eat the food in a timely manner. Farmers and distributors are also forced to compost large quantities of fresh food that there is a decreased demand for.
How to Reduce the Risk of Food Poisoning
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning is a term that describes the illness associated with a variety of foodborne illnesses. These illnesses include E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria and many other types of bacteria and germs. Food poisoning causes around 48 million people to get sick each year. Around 3,000 die.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of getting food poisoning. The CDC recommends doing the following:
- Clean – Wash work surfaces and your hands before preparing any food. Germs that cause food poisoning can live in cutting boards and on utensils, countertops and your hands.
- Separate – Never prepare raw meat, poultry or seafood in the same space as ready-to-eat foods or vegetables. Separate these products and clean work areas between preparation.
- Cook – Make sure all foods are cooked properly. Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the proper internal temperature.
- Chill – Make sure that your refrigerator is set to 40° or lower. Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours of cooking.
Another important step in reducing the risk of food poisoning is understanding that some people are more vulnerable than others. People who are more likely to get food poisoning and have a more serious illness include:
- Children under five years old
- Adults 65 or older
- People with weak immune systems
- People who have chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS or kidney disease
- Pregnant women
The CDC recommends that people in these groups stay away from certain foods that are often the source of food poisoning. That includes foods like:
- Undercooked or raw meat (beef, chicken, pork, seafood)
- Raw eggs
- Raw sprouts
- Unpasteurized milk or juice
- Soft cheeses (queso fresco)
Eating these foods in moderation may be okay, but vulnerable populations are more likely to get food poisoning from these foods that often carry bacteria and germs.
What are the Symptoms of Severe Food Poisoning?
Most people experience relatively mild – albeit uncomfortable – symptoms if they develop food poisoning. For vulnerable populations, the symptoms are likely to be more severe. Anyone who suspects they have food poisoning should be mindful of the following symptoms and talk to their doctor if they develop:
Dehydration is the most significant concern with severe food poisoning. Without proper treatment, dehydration can cause serious medical conditions including kidney or liver problems, seizures, hypovolemic shock (low blood volume) and heat injuries.
Ultimately, reducing the risk of food poisoning comes down to good food safety and hygiene practices. By following food safety guidelines you can help your family stay healthy and safe, and reduce the risk of the serious consequences of food poisoning.