We’ve talked about food safety and diabetes before, but we haven’t yet talked about how people with diabetes have a greater risk of experiencing foodborne illness. If you have diabetes, some of your organs and bodily systems may not be strong enough to fight off the pathogens that causes foodborne illness. Having high glucose levels in your blood prevents white blood cells from defending against the infectious pathogens. Diabetes also affects how your kidneys, immune system, and gastrointestinal tract function, which also affect your immune response.
These factors not only leave you more vulnerable to getting sick, but you may also be sick for longer and experience a greater likelihood of having to be hospitalized. But foodborne illness is easy to avoid by practicing these four simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
CLEAN your hands and cooking surfaces often.
Properly washing your hands requires scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times. When it comes to your counters, you don’t need heavy duty chemicals. Just wipe down the counter with hot, soapy water. And if you use fabric towels, make sure to wash them often on hot water.
SEPARATE – Don’t cross-contaminate.
You can prevent the spread of germs by separating your raw meat, poultry, and seafood from your fruits and vegetables. Invest in separate cutting boards for produce and meat, and then replace the boards when they have developed deep grooves that make it hard to clean. When storing raw meat, poultry, and seafood, place them in sealed plastic bags or on a plate to prevent their juices from leaking onto other food in the refrigerator.
COOK foods to a safe temperature.
The only way to make sure that your food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Reheat or refrigerate your food once it sits out for two hours—or one hour if the air temperature is above 90˚F. When reheating, use the oven, stove, or microwave to kill off any pathogens that may have grown while the food was cooling. Do not use slow cookers to reheat food, as they do not get hot enough to kill off pathogens. For ovens, set the temperature to 350˚F or higher. With microwaves, make sure to stir and rotate the food to ensure even heating.
CHILL your food to slow germ growth.
Once you’ve refrigerated your leftovers, do not keep them for more than 3 or 4 days. Use an appliance thermometer to check that your refrigerator is at 41°F or below, the optimal temperature to maximize your refrigerator’s efficiency and reduce pathogen growth.
You can learn more about how diabetes puts you at a greater risk of foodborne illness and ways to prevent it by downloading our “Food Safety for Persons with Diabetes” handout. You can also visit our website or contact your county Extension office to learn more food safety practices.