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Here's How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Bacteria in that fast-casual salad can actually kill you. Here's what you need to know to dodge it.

"I keep hearing about people getting salmonella, E. coli, and God knows what else at a restaurant or fast-food place. How can I avoid getting sick?" — PAUL G., MANCHESTER, NH

You’re smart to ask—no meal out is worth dying for, right? So here’s the lowdown:

Salmonella, a foodborne bacteria, “results in more hospitalizations and deaths than any other bacteria in food,” says Dr. Robert Tauxe, M.D., of the Centers for Disease Control. You get it from eating undercooked, wrongly prepped, or unclean food, with symptoms—diarrhea, cramps, fever—lasting four to seven days.

To dodge salmonella when eating out (and you really want to do that, as even a mild case can be very painful): Eat only thoroughly cooked meat and poultry (no rare steak, soft bacon, or pink chicken for you!), and eggs with very firm yolks and whites. If it’s not cooked enough, send it back. Also, be sure to avoid uncooked foods that might contain raw eggs, like hollandaise and béarnaise sauce, mousse, meringue, and “homemade” Caesar dressing and ice cream. In fact, to be ultracareful (especially at fast-food joints), we’d skip all raw foods, even veggies: In the past few years, cucumbers, bean sprouts, tahini, and raw nut butter have all caused outbreaks.

E. coli, on the other hand, is caused by certain intestinal bacteria and can be contracted by touching or consuming anything contaminated with feces, either human or animal. It can lead to bloody diarrhea and even kidney failure.

To avoid it when out: Be sure food’s fully cooked, especially ground beef; wash your hands after using the john, no matter what you did in there; and, again, be wary of raw foods, in case a handler or prepper didn’t wash—then went and fondled what’s now on your plate.

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