Food Safety Tips

You have learned how to select healthful foods, to modify recipes appropriately, and to make attractive and good-tasting meals. The final step is to ensure that the food you serve is safe to eat. Approximately 7 million cases of food poisoning are reported every year in the United States.

Many other cases are mistaken for stomach flu or some other infection and therefore are never reported. Food poisoning can be a serious and potentially fatal illness. Fortunately, such severe cases are rare. Bacterial contamination of food can occur if food is handled improperly.

Thus, food safety is of paramount importance. Kitchens are replete with chances for passing along the bacteria (germs) that cause food poisoning. It is the responsibility of the person preparing the meal to make certain that foods and utensils are washed properly. Unclean kitchen utensils can promote food poisoning by growing unwelcome bacteria.

Sometimes in the rush to prepare meals, it is easy to overlook one of the simplest and most important rules in food preparation: wash your hands before handling any food. Bacteria tend to accumulate on your hands, especially around the cuticles and under the fingernails.

To actually kill the bacteria, it would take water so hot that it would harm your skin. At least 10 seconds of vigorous rubbing with soap or detergent and warm water is required to rid your hands of germs. You also should wash your hands during meal preparation if they become contaminated by the food you are handling.

Cross-contamination can lead to food poisoning. If uncooked food has been on a plate or cutting board, that plate or cutting board could transfer a potentially infectious agent to any other food that comes in contact with it. Therefore, always use separate utensils, plates, and cutting boards for raw and cooked foods.

Food safety begins as soon as you purchase the food. Ideally, perishable foods should be promptly taken home and immediately refrigerated or frozen. However, if you need to make a stop before reaching home, plan to store meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products in a cooler on ice.

Always observe the refrigeration recommendations on packaged foods. To decrease the total amount of bacteria found on raw chicken and other poultry, thoroughly rinse, inside and out, under cold water. After a complete rinse, use hot water and soap to wash out the sink.

Before freezing meat, poultry, or fish, divide it into the portion size that you will need to prepare one meal. When you need to cool a food that you have cooked, quickly transfer it to a shallow container. Cover it and refrigerate it immediately.

Bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40° and 140° Fahrenheit, potentially doubling in number every 20 to 30 minutes. Therefore, the most important food safety rule in the kitchen is: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Defrosting Food

Thaw poultry, fish, and meat in the refrigerator. Defrosting at room temperature promotes thawing on the outside while the core remains frozen. The soft outer portion provides a fertile site for bacterial growth.

Instead, put frozen food in the refrigerator (which is cool but above freezing) 1 or 2 days before it is to be used. For faster thawing, run cold water over the item or use a microwave for quick defrosting.

Marinade Savvy

Marinate poultry, seafood, and meat in the refrigerator. To play it safe, set some of the marinade aside (to use for basting or as a sauce at the table) before adding it to the raw meat. Avoid using the liquid that the raw meat has been marinating in for basting.

If you do, discontinue basting at least 15 minutes before the meat is done so that the marinade can be heated to a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria that may be present. Do not use the leftover marinade as a sauce unless it has not come in contact with the raw meat or you have boiled it for at least 5 minutes.

Cooking Food

Always be sure to cook recipes at the appropriate temperature. Cooking foods to an internal temperature of at least 160° Fahrenheit kills most dangerous bacteria. Uncooked or undercooked meat can harbor pathogens such as the notorious E. coli bacteria.

Using Slow Cookers

Using a slow cooker is a popular way of preparing soups, stews, roasts, and other hearty dishes. Because this device cooks at relatively low temperatures—compared with the oven or stovetop—it is vital to exercise safe cooking habits. For example, thaw meat thoroughly and cut it into small pieces.

Use recipes that call for plenty of liquid. Bring to a boil quickly and then reduce heat to simmer. Do not overfill the cooker. Be sure to use a thermometer to make certain the temperature stays at 160° Fahrenheit or higher.

Serving Safely

After taking care to prepare and cook food as safely as possible, don’t contaminate it while it is being served. Here are a few tips. Avoid letting cooked foods cool on the table. Do not allow foods that contain perishable ingredients (such as raw eggs, homemade sauces, eggnog, or homemade Caesar dressing) to remain at room temperature for longer than a few minutes.

Once finished serving, always promptly place cooked or perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer. At a picnic or party, keep cold foods on ice and hot foods properly heated.

Dishes, serving bowls, or other items made of glazed lead-containing pottery can cause poisoning, particularly in young children. Make sure that the container that is used for cooking and serving is properly glazed (manufacture by a domestic pottery dealer should ensure this). If in doubt, use the pottery for decoration rather than for cooking or serving food.

Refrigerating Or Freezing Food

If warm or hot food is headed for storage in the refrigerator or freezer, do not allow it to cool on the countertop. Place warm or hot food into a shallow pan to facilitate cooling and then put it directly into the refrigerator or freezer. If the quantity of food is large, distribute it in two or more containers to enable quicker cooling.

Clean It

When you have finished eating, thoroughly wash pots and pans, utensils, and all kitchen surfaces (counter, stove tops, and sink) with soap and hot water. Let cutting boards and utensils air dry. Wash or replace sponges and dish towels frequently. If you have an automatic dishwasher, it may be helpful to have two sponges so you can wash one with each load of dishes.