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Extension Agent: Food safety when eating out

By By Brenda Anderson
June 25, 2013 at 1:25 a.m.


While it is almost always healthier to make foods at home, where you know exactly what is going into your meals and how they were prepared, there are times when your family may want to eat out. Dining out can be a fun treat - but not if it makes you sick.

One out of every six people will get sick from the food they eat this year. Everyone is at risk of getting a foodborne illness, but infants, children under age 5, pregnant women, adults over age 60, people with weak immune systems and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes are at a higher risk of getting a foodborne illness.

Many cases of foodborne illness are linked to foods prepared outside of the home. According to research, the major factors behind these outbreaks are poor personal hygiene of employees, food not cooked to or kept at correct temperatures and cross-contamination. So, how can you prevent foodborne illness when dining out?

Know your restaurant and check the cleanliness of the tables, chairs, floors and bathrooms. Look around for roaches, flies and rodents, which can carry diseases that cause foodborne illnesses. Observe employees to see if they follow good personal hygiene. If available, take a look at posted inspection report results.

Know your food and how it should be prepared. Avoid eating foods with risky or undercooked ingredients and always check your food when it arrives.

Hot foods should be steaming hot, and cold foods should be cold. If your food is not prepared like it should be, send it back. It is not worth getting sick over.

If you have a choice, order off of a menu instead of eating from a buffet. Individually prepared meals should be fresher than food that has been sitting out on a steam table. If you do choose to eat from a buffet, try to go during the busier times of day when foods are replaced more often.

Handle leftovers safely. Leftovers need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of being served to you. Eat refrigerated leftovers within two or three days. Frozen leftovers can be kept longer, but they should be used sooner than later for best quality.

Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, (always check with a food thermometer) and soups, gravies and sauces should be brought to a boil.

For microwave reheating, cover the food while cooking and then let stand for a couple of minutes after cooking so that the heat is distributed throughout the food. And when in doubt, throw leftovers out.

If you have symptoms of a foodborne illness (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting), getting plenty of rest and fluids usually helps. However, if vomiting lasts longer than a day, if there are signs of dehydration or if you have vision or breathing difficulties, get medical help immediately.

Observe these tips for safer and healthier dining out.

Resource: "Don't Get Bugged From Foodborne Illness" curricula from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Better Living for Texans program.

Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.

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