By: Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD
There’s nothing that can kill the #goodvibesonly mood on a trip out of town like getting sick from food. Not only are what we eat and how much we eat important to our health, but also how the food is handled. Food safety probably isn’t something that crosses your mind first when eating a meal, but thankfully the chain of farmers, scientists and food experts have done their homework on making it safe.
Did you know that 48 million people contract a foodborne illness each year? Yikes. Good thing most of these cases are limited to mild digestive problems treated with rest and fluids. Better news? We have major control over our risk of developing these unpleasant issues.
1. Limit high-risk foods. Animal products (fish, dairy, chicken, beef, mollusks and pork) contribute the largest share of challenges to America’s food safety per the CDC and are responsible for 60 percent of foodborne illness. When on the road, it’s best to stock up instead on plant-based fare that is shelf stable such as trail mix, peanut butter, raisins, freeze dried strawberries, crunchy chickpeas, whole wheat crackers, single-serve fortified nondairy milks or low-sodium canned vegetable cups. An unexpected bonus? The fiber boost in these plant foods helps curb appetites and keeps tummies happy longer between meals or snacks.
2. Wash your hands. It’s such a simple act, but so often it’s overlooked. Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing and eating food can eradicate most of the germs that lead to illness. Be sure also to refrain from touching your face or other surfaces after scrubbing your hands, or hopping between animal and plant-based foods. Hand sanitizer with 60 percent or more alcohol content is a suitable backup to soap and water. Making a pit stop at the gas station? Wash your hands. Grabbing something from the snack stand on the beach? Wash your hands. Snagging some munchies from the hotel lobby for a midnight snack? Wash your hands. You get the idea.
3. Cook and store at proper temperatures. High temperatures kill the microorganisms that can make you sick. Cold temperatures slow the growth of microorganisms that can make you sick. Most of us might admit we assess “doneness” by the way food looks; however, that trick doesn’t make the cut. Checking internal temperatures using a food-grade thermometer should be done not only at home, but also when out and about. Even a partial leftover burger from a favorite diner on vacay needs to be reheated appropriately to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F before eating again. Make it a habit to chill food below 40 degrees F within two hours of making or opening, whether it’s in a cooler in the trunk or a mini fridge in your room.
Traveling is a time to set the refresh button, enjoy unique foods, reconnect with old friends or visit new places. Limiting high-risk foods, washing your hands and cooking and storing food at proper temperatures are your strongest allies in staying safe from food-borne illness so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest!