The all-important issue of food safety is undoubtedly a lot more complex than the foodborne illness-preventing – and even life-saving – quartet of “clean, separate, cook and chill” particularly when it comes to eating out and purchasing processed and prepared foods at grocery stores. How can consumers ensure that the food that they eat was handled, prepared and stored in a safe manner while protecting themselves and their families from common foodborne illness-causing viruses and bacteria such as Salmonella, listeria and E. coli along with other contaminants?

The best method of vigilance is to keep abreast of all food recalls and alerts issued by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. lists any active recalls and alerts posted by retailers and manufacturers. Along with seeking treatment, it’s also crucial to report any instances of food poisoning to help prevent others, particular those most susceptible such as pregnant women and the elderly, from falling ill. If you suspect food is contaminated, do not let it go unreported. Although unpleasant in the short-term, food poisoning can also lead to a variety of long-term health effects including kidney failure, nerve damage and even death – approximately 3,000 people die each year in the United States from illnesses associated with food poisoning. All and all, 100,000 annual hospital visits directly stem from foodborne illnesses.

And as mentioned, the four crucial steps of at-home food safety prevention – clean, separate, cook and chill – should be observed at all times and are particularly important during seasonal outdoor cookouts, barbecues and potlucks when basic safety precautions may be overlooked, taking a backseat to entertaining.

Reducing foodborne illness by just 1 percent, would prevent 500,000 from becoming sick each year. (Home Food Safety)