The key to a healthy diet is eating a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and more. But experts say that another key to your good health is separating those foods safely, so they don’t contaminate one another and harbor harmful bacteria. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you run that risk every time you put one type of food on the top shelf of your fridge. They say that making this one simple storage mistake can spread dangerous bacteria, leading to serious foodborne illness. Read on to find out which one food item you should never store on the top shelf of your fridge and how you can protect yourself.
Never store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the top shelf.
Raw meat is one of the most common causes for food contamination, so experts say you should take special care when storing it in your fridge. “Store fruits and vegetables away from, and not next to or below raw meat, poultry, and seafood,” warns the CDC. “These items can drip juices that may have germs.”
Accompanying the health authority’s warning is an image of a safely organized refrigerator. In the image, unopened packaged foods are situated on the top shelf, dairy is kept separate from fruits and vegetables, and meat, poultry, and seafood are located safely on the bottom shelf.
Looking for other ways to prevent cross-contamination? Alway keep meat in its original packaging until you use it, and consider either wrapping it in an additional plastic bag or using a plastic bin to prevent leakage.
Contamination can cause serious foodborne illnesses.
If you’re used to storing your food together in the fridge, you’re risking serious foodborne illness. That’s because raw meat, poultry, and seafood can contain Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Clostridium Perfringens, Campylobacter, and more. These can cause debilitating symptoms, including stomach cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and more, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The CDC estimates that 48 million people become sick from food poisoning annually. Roughly 128,000 of those patients are hospitalized, and over 3,000 die each year.
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If you fall into one of these categories, be especially cautious with food storage.
Though everyone should take basic precautions to prevent cross-contamination of their food, there are certain demographics that need to be especially mindful of their food storage systems. “If you’re part of what is called an ‘at-risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ population, a foodborne illness can be extremely dangerous,” explains the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Symptoms—such as vomiting, diarrhea and fever—can intensify and the illness can become life-threatening,” their experts add.
Those at highest risk are individuals over 65, pregnant people, children under the age of one, and those who are immunocompromised. “Combined, these vulnerable groups accounted for at least 90 percent of the listeriosis cases,” warns the FDA.
Taking additional precautions can help protect you.
While separating the food in your fridge is essential, experts say there are other ways to help ensure the safe handling of animal products in your fridge. Be sure to use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables, never return your cooked meat to a plate that previously held raw meat, and be sure to wash and disinfect your cutting boards, countertops, and utensils after handling meat.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that you never wash raw meat before cooking it. “Washing raw meat, chicken, turkey, or eggs can spread germs to your sink, countertops, and other surfaces,” the organization says.