Food Safety Month

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September is National Food Safety Education Month. The goal of the “celebration” is to encourage everyone to teach about food safety. You don’t have to be a food safety nerd, a county health sanitarian or have a food safety manager certification to do this. Everyone can be a teacher, role model or mentor in food safety not just this month but all year. This column all month will focus on common food safety topics.

Everyone can be proactive in preventing foodborne illness, also known as “food poisoning.” The Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually – that’s about 1 in 6 Americans each year. These illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. 

Help us spread the word about the importance of food safety. 

Know the Symptoms

Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within 1 to 3 days of eating the contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later. Symptoms of foodborne illness can include: vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain–and flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache.

Although most healthy people will recover from a foodborne illness within a short period of time, some can develop chronic, severe, or even life-threatening health problems. In addition, some people are at a higher risk for developing foodborne illness, including pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or diabetes). 

Handle Foods Safely

There are four simple steps in safe food handling, cooking, and storage that are important to help prevent foodborne illness. You can’t see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow these four guidelines:

  • Clean—Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate—Don’t cross-contaminate (especially uncooked food and ready-to-eat food) 
  • Cook—Cook to proper temperatures, checking with a food thermometer.
  • Chill—Refrigerate promptly (within 2-4 hours)

To have a little fun with this topic, you could play Food Safety Bingo during Food Safety Education month. You might even win a prize. The game (and lots of related references and links) can be found on-line from the folks at The Partnership for Food Safety Education (

Some of the things you need to do to get a “bingo spot” are simple. These include watching a Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) video on YouTube, share a post from them on LinkedIn, follow them on X (formerly known as Twitter) or write and share a recipe that contains food safety information. There are lots of other ideas on the bingo card that can help you learn more and help you spread the word about the importance of food safety.

If you complete these activities in a row, column or diagonal between now and the end of the month, you can enter for a chance to win. Prizes will be selected by a random drawing of those who enter. Grand prize is a $50 Amazon Card. Other prizes include food safety cookbooks and safe food refrigerator magnets.

Resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at or by calling N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610