5 Food Safety Counseling Points

MARCH 29, 2017
Pharmacists can play an important role in preventing foodborne illness. With the season of outdoor grilling fast approaching, food safety is especially important.  

Approximately 48 million individuals in the United States become sick from food poisoning each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.1 The most common foodborne illnesses are norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter. Common symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, but can also include life-threatening complications such as organ failure. Young children, pregnant women, adults over 65 years of age, and immunocompromised patients are at greatest risk of getting food poisoning. Check out these 5 important counseling points to prevent foodborne illness.

Wash your hands and surfaces often. Educate patients to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before, during, and after preparing food. It is especially important to wash your hands after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices. Surfaces and utensils should be washed after each use to prevent bacteria from spreading throughout the kitchen.

Separate food to prevent cross-contamination. It is important to keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator.  Also, separate surfaces should be used for ready to eat food and raw meat or eggs.

Cook food to the right temperature. Let patients know that bacteria that cause foodborne illness multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40-140 ° Fahrenheit.2 Food thermometers should be used to determine whether food is safe to eat. Educate patients to place the thermometer in the thickest part of the food to check whether it is done.

Store food correctly. The Foodsafety.gov website is a great resource for food safety (Table). It includes information on storing leftovers and what to do in the event of power outages. It is extremely important to refrigerate perishable foods, including leftovers, within 2 hours to prevent foodborne illness.  Keep in mind this also applies to restaurant leftovers. If they have been left unrefrigerated for over 2 hours, then they should be discarded.
Table: Food Storage2
Category Food Refrigerator Freezer
Salads Egg, chicken, ham 3-5 days Does not freeze well
Hot dogs Opened package
Unopened package
1 week
2 weeks
1-2 months
1-2 months
Luncheon meat Opened package or deli sliced
Unopened package
3-5 days
2 weeks
1-2 months
1-2 months
Grounds meats Hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb 1-2 days 3-4 months
Fresh poultry Chicken or turkey, whole
Chicken or turkey, pieces
1-2 days
1-2 days
1 year
9 months
Soups and stews Vegetable or meat added 3-4 days 2-3 months
Leftovers Cooked meat or poultry
Chicken nuggets or patties
3-4 days
3-4 days
3-4 days
2-6 months
1-3 months
1-2 months
Adapted from Foodsafety.gov

Sign up for recall alerts. Educate patients to sign up through Foodsafety.gov or the Food and Drug Administration website for food safety recalls.  This is a great way to stay up-to-date and prevent foodborne illness.
  1. Be food safe: protect yourself from food poisoning.  CDC website.  https://www.cdc.gov/features/befoodsafe/. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  2. Charts: food safety at a glance.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.  https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/index.html. Accessed March 23, 2017.

Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, received her PharmD degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Pharmacy in 2006 and completed a 2-year drug information residency. She served as a pharmacy professor at NSU’s College of Pharmacy for 6 years, managed the drug information center, and conducted medication therapy management reviews. Dr. Gershman has published research on prescription drug abuse, regulatory issues, and drug information in various scholarly journals. Additionally, she received the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award for her collaboration with the Broward, Florida Sheriff’s Office to prevent prescription drug abuse through a drug disposal program. She has also presented at pharmacist and physician continuing education programs on topics that include medication errors, prescription drug abuse, and legal and regulatory issues. Dr. Gershman can be followed on Twitter @jgershman2
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