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Food Safety Basics

Food Safety is the Key to Healthy Eating


Updated November 26, 2009

We seldom think of our kitchens as a dangerous place. But there is a hidden enemy there waiting to attack a weakened immune system. Bacteria hiding in raw meats, on counter tops or cutting boards put the HIV infected person at risk for life threatening infections. More specifically, improperly stored or prepared foods can harbor bacteria that can be dangerous to the weakened immune system. Food safety is a very important part of HIV preventative care. This feature will help you eat safe and stay healthy.

Bacteria that cause illness can live anywhere in the kitchen. Counter tops, utensils, sponges, cutting boards, and even your hands are excellent homes for bacteria. A few simple techniques can help you stay safe.

  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after handling food. Also be sure to wash you hands after using the bathroom or handling a pet.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot soapy water after preparing food and between each food being prepared.
  • Use disposable paper towels when cleaning your kitchen. If you have to use cloth towels wash them often in hot water.
  • Avoid leaving soiled and damp wash clothes on your kitchen counter or hanging from a towel rack. This allows bacteria to grow and infect anything they come in contact with.
  • Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards. Porous surfaces such as wood allows bacteria to migrate into the surface and contaminates any food that comes in contact with that surface.

Stay Separate
Bacteria can move from one food to another. This cross-contamination occurs most easily in raw meats, poultry, and seafood. A few simple tips can minimize the risk of cross-contamination and keep food free of the bacteria that can make you sick.

  • Never prepare any raw meat, poultry, or seafood on a cutting board that has already been used.
  • Boards must be washed with hot soapy water before cutting different raw foods. Ideally, a different cutting board should be used for each food being prepared.
  • Always wash your hands, utensils, counter tops, and cutting boards after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Never place cooked foods on a plate that has been in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood without first washing it with hot soapy water.

Cook Thoroughly
Cooking food thoroughly is an essential step in food safety. Food is said to be cooked thoroughly if it has been cooked at a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill any bacteria presence. The following will help you cook safely.

  • Use a cooking thermometer to assure that foods are cooked all the way through.
  • Do not eat beef that is pink inside.
  • Recipes that require raw eggs such as caesar salad dressing and chocolate mousse should be avoided.
  • When cooking in microwaves, make sure there are no cold areas in the food where bacteria could have survived.
  • When reheating leftovers be sure you cook them thoroughly to a temperature of at least 165 degrees.

Keep Your Cool
To keep bacteria from multiplying it is important to refrigerate food quickly. Your refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees and your freezer at 0 degrees. Keeping foods cool will keep bacteria at bay. Here are a few helpful hints to help you keep your cool.

  • Refrigerate or freeze prepared foods and leftovers within two hours after the meal is complete.
  • Never thaw food at room temperature.
  • Food should thaw in the refrigerator, under cold water or in a microwave oven.
  • Divide leftovers into small portions so they can cool more quickly.

Bacteria can't be seen, can't be heard but can be deadly. Taking the right precautions in the kitchen and in your food preparation can make the difference between sickness and health. Being aware of food safety is essential for anyone living with HIV.

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