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HIV and Food Borne Illnesses

Food Safety and the Risk to People Living with HIV


Updated November 26, 2010

One area often overlooked in preventative health care and HIV care in general is the importance of food safety and the risk of food borne illnesses. In other words, proper preparation and storage of food is seldom addressed in a doctor's office visit but is a very important part of staying healthy. Proper food handling and storage minimizes the risk of food borne illnesses; something very important to people with weakened immune systems as is the case in HIV. How does food safety affect your health and what do you have to do to stay healthy?

Health Maintenance Guidelines

Proper Storage

Food safety starts with the proper storage of perishable foods. Here are some hints on proper food storage.
  • Set your refrigerator no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer no higher than 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods as soon as they are purchased.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of eating the meal.
  • Do not pack the refrigerator too full. Air must circulate around food to provide for proper cooling.
  • Store leftovers in small, single serving containers.

Food Preparation

Food is prepared properly if it is cooked at a high enough temperature and for long enough to kill any bacteria present. Here are some important tips for proper food preparation.
  • Never thaw food at room temperature. Thaw in the refrigerator, under cold water, or in the microwave.
  • Use a clean meat thermometer when preparing food to assure that food reaches the proper temperature.
  • Use a food temperature preparation guide when cooking.
  • Cook at the following temperatures:
    • roasts and steaks to at least 145F
    • whole poultry to at least 180F
    • ground beef to at least 160F.
  • Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links eating undercooked, pink ground beef with a higher risk of illness. If a thermometer is not available, do not eat ground beef that is still pink inside.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.
  • Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
  • Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive.
  • For even cooking, cover food while cooking and stir and rotate. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165F.

Food Preparation Temperature Guidelines

Don't Cross Contaminate

Bacteria can spread from one piece of food to another. In order to prevent this cross-contamination, follow these simple tips.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your shopping cart and your refrigerator.
  • When preparing a meal do not use a the same cutting board for raw meat and other foods (e.g. vegetables).
  • Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after coming in contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate which previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Washing Your Hands the Proper Way

Clean Up the Kitchen

All other tips for food safety are useless without cleaning your kitchen and food preparation area correctly. A clean kitchen is a must in order to eliminate foodborne illnesses.
  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next food item.
  • Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards. These boards should be run through the dishwasher or washed in hot soapy water after use.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Avoiding foodborne illnesses is a must for those infected with HIV. Stay healthy, eat well, and remember these food safety tips.

Related Video
USDA Food Pyramid Explained
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