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Food Safety Basics

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 76 million people contract a food borne illness each year and of those, 300,000 people are hospitalized. Recent outbreaks of food borne illnesses include eggs, peanut butter and spinach. Although those food recalls make the headlines, the majority of food related illnesses occur at home. With the start of the school year, lunch box safety, eating and reheating leftovers and tailgating tips are on the top of the food safety list.

A survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association indicates that 4 out of 5 children do not have access to a refrigerator at school so packing a safe lunch is of prime importance. Even when foods are kept in a cool environment, once perishable foods reach room temperature, they are safe for only 2 hours. So in addition to using an insulated lunch kit, try using the beverage as the cold pack. Ready to drink “juice boxes” of low fat milk and 100% juice can be frozen and used to help keep the perishable foods safe. Don’t forget to wash out the lunch box at the end of each day.

Keeping cold foods cold starts with your refrigerator. All protein containing foods, as well as those made with mayonnaise, should be considered perishable. This means they need to be kept under 40 degrees. A survey of Americans conducted by the American Dietetic Association, revealed that 1/3 of Americans don’t keep their refrigerator below 40 degrees and over 40% of Americans admit they don’t know what temperature their frig should be set at! Get a refrigerator thermometer and make sure it reads 40 degrees or less.

As you travel to football games, get an additional thermometer for your insulated tailgating cooler. Add ample amounts of ice or ice packs to keep those foods cold on your way to the game. In our Texas heat, transport your cooler in the back seat of your car and not the hot trunk. Remove from the cooler only the amount of meat that will fit on the grill keeping the rest of the food cold. In addition to keeping your foods cold, avoid cross contamination. Keep raw meat separate from ready to eat foods such as vegetables, fruit or chips. Pack instant hand sanitizers or wipes so the contamination doesn’t come from your hands. When it comes to keeping your cool, don’t guess! Get a thermometer for food safety success!

Cook all foods to the proper temperature. The only way to tell is to use the meat thermometer. All meats should be cooked thoroughly. Hamburgers should reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees and chicken should be grilled to an internal temperature of 170 degrees. When the outside temperature is 90 degrees, these cooked foods are only safe to eat for 1 hour. Consider this when you get a doggy bag from your favorite restaurant. When re-heating your leftover from the restaurant or from last night’s dinner, once again your thermometer is your food safety friend. Reheat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

If you are looking for more information we recommend a great website that has some food safety tips as well as a printable food safety guide for your refrigerator.