First Step of Food Safety

What you should know about food safety before it hits your plate.

HealthIt’s a great day. The entire family is out on a picnic at the park, enjoying great conversation, a friendly game of badminton, and some of Uncle James’ world-famous potato salad. On the ride home, your cell phone rings and you find out your sister is feeling sick. Two minutes later, another call. Your cousin feels the same way. By the time you get home, you sprint to the bathroom and realize that you, too, fell victim to food poisoning.

While the need for food safety on the grill and on the way to your mouth is often discussed, you may not realize how much danger your food may be in before it ever leaves your house. What can you do to keep your food safe, sound, and ready to be gobbled down safely at the next family outing?

Do This: Refrigerate

Any time you bring a food item into your home that requires refrigeration or freezing, it should be put in the proper place immediately. If you get in a crunch and have cold foods that can’t get in cold storage immediately, never allow it to stay out longer than two hours at room temperature. In the event you’re in an environment that is much warmer than typical room temperature, get the food refrigerated much faster or prepare to toss the food in the garbage.

Do This: Enjoy

Instead of letting lunchmeats, hot dogs, and other ready-to-eat foods sit in the fridge for weeks and months, eat them today. Allowing them to stay in the refrigerator puts your cold meats at increased risk for carrying dangerous bacteria. So sidestep this unwanted food issue by chowing down as soon as possible.

Do This: Research

In order to get the right foods in the right place, you have to know where they go. If you’re unsure where a certain food item should be placed, look at the label. Every food that requires refrigeration or freezing will be labeled appropriately, so figuring out what goes in the fridge, freezer, or pantry is usually no problem. Once you know what belongs in the cold, put it there.

Do This: Trash

Have something in the refrigerator that doesn’t quite look right? Smells a little funny? Don’t run the risk of food poisoning and other food-related illnesses by eating it to spite your eyes and nose. Instead, take the potentially hazardous food and throw it in the trash. Even if it doesn’t make you sick, old food that may have a little mold on it tastes awful.

Do This: Reset

To ensure your foods are kept at the right temperature, it’s important to have your refrigerator and freezer set at the right temperature. The ideal temperature for a refrigerator is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and the freezer should stay at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a good idea to check the temperature in both every once in a while and adjust the temperature as needed.

Beyond the Fridge

As you probably know, food safety hazards aren’t limited to foods that require refrigerating or freezing. The canned goods sitting in your pantry can also be home to some rather nasty little bacteria that can cause you to be on sick leave for quite a while.

Fortunately, avoiding contamination in non-refrigerated foods is relatively easy. Here’s what to do.

  • Avoid storing foods under your kitchen sink. You may not see any leaks under there, but if there is a small leak, your potatoes, onions, apples, and other foods can grow gross in no time.
  • Store food away from dangerous chemicals. Just because rat poison and toilet cleaning liquids have lids on them doesn’t mean they won’t affect food nearby. To avoid any potential contamination, keep your household cleaning supplies and other potential hazards away from all foods at all times.
  • Keep an eye out for damaged canned goods. If you see any kind of damage – whether the can has a visible hole or is dented severely, be food smart and toss it in the garbage.
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4 Steps to Safe Summer Picnics

Did you know that foodborne illnesses increase in the summer months? Read on to find out why and how you can prevent it from affecting you and your family.

The Unites States Department of Agriculture suggests that there may be two reasons why foodborne illness (also called food poisoning) increases in the warmer months. First, bacteria grow faster in warmer weather. Second, as people spend more time cooking outdoors, they often forgo the safety controls of an indoor kitchen such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities.

Fortunately, in just four simple steps you can reduce your risk of getting a summer time foodborne illness.

Step 1: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces often. You can never do these things too much when it comes to handling food and cooking. If you’re eating away from home, find out if the site has potable water. If not, bring your own and pack disposable washcloths or moist towelettes and paper towels to clean your hands and cooking surfaces.

Step 2: Don’t cross-contaminate. Wrap raw meats securely before packing them in your cooler and avoid letting raw meat juices come in contact with ready-to-eat food. Thoroughly wash all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that come in contact with raw meat.

Step 3: Cook all foods to their proper temperatures. Heating food to their proper temperatures can kill harmful bacteria that contribute to foodborne illness. Use your meat thermometer to determine if your food is heated through. Beef, veal, lamb steaks, roasts, and chops should have an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. All cuts of pork should reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground beef, veal, and lamb should achieve an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and all poultry should reach a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 4: Refrigerate as soon as possible. Perishable items, such as lunch meat and potato or pasta salad, should be kept in an insulated cooler under several inches of ice. Keep your cooler in the coolest part of your car and leave your cooler in the shade whenever possible. Maintain a cool temperature in your cooler by replacing ice as soon as it begins to melt. Do not leave perishable foods out of the cooler for more than two hours. Try to pack drinks in a different cooler than perishable foods since you’ll probably open the drink cooler frequently, which lets in warm air that can raise the temperatures in some foods and make them unsafe.

Following these steps can help you keep your food fresh and prevent you from getting sick, but there is one more thing you should always remember: when in doubt, throw it out.

Cook Safely, Grill Master

Whether you’re an apprentice or the heralded and respected Grill Master of old, here are a few safety tips you should know.

  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator rather than the counter or outdoors.
  • Keep your grill away from brush, foliage, and trees that can easily catch fire.
  • Grill at least four feet away from any structure.
  • Keep a spray or squirt bottle full of water nearby to extinguish flare-ups from dripping fat.
  • Use utensils designed for grilling, which often have longer reaches and heat-safe handles.
  • Wear an apron to protect your clothing from grease spatters. An apron also adds another layer of protection against burns.
  • Use oven mitts with caution. The newer design of high-heat silicon mitts are a better option than cloth mitts, which are more likely to catch fire if a stray flame shoots up.
  • Make sure children and pets stay a safe distance away from a hot grill.
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