Nutrition is serious business here at Life University (Life U), and a major element of promoting maximized nutritional wellness is safe food preparation. Food poisoning is no joke and can even be fatal in severe cases, so take a moment to review some basic food safety precautions and ways to keep your family safe.
Four Main Food Safety Steps
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) outlines four tenants of food safety in their article “Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.”
- Wash hands and surfaces often.
- When washing hands, remember to do so for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Do this before, during and after preparing food, as well as before eating.
- Wash all utensils, countertops and cutting boards with hot water and soap after food preparation.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before consumption.
- It’s important to take steps not to cross-contaminate and expose ready-to-eat foods to unprepared foods or their byproducts that might cause illness.
- Keep raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs separated from ready-to-eat foods. If there is a person with a food allergy in your household, it is important to keep allergens that might cause a reaction separated from ready-to-eat foods.
- Have a separate cutting board and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- At the grocery store, be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from everything else in the cart.
- Raw meats and eggs should be separated from other foods in the refrigerator.
- Cook food through to the right temperature, as food is considered properly cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill disease-causing germs. A food thermometer is needed to ensure a dish is safely cooked. Contrary to popular belief, color and texture alone are not enough to tell if food is safely cooked.
- Take note of some common food temperature guidelines. Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb and pork should be cooked to 145°F. Allow the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or eating). Fish with fins should also be cooked to 145°F. Ground meats, such as beef and pork, should be cooked to 160°F. All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey, should be cooked to 165°F, as well as leftovers and casseroles.
- When in doubt, consult a chart of acceptable food temperatures to see if your food has reached a proper internal temperature after measuring with a food thermometer.
- Be mindful when reheating food, especially when using a microwave. Be aware of your microwave’s wattage, listed on the door, in its manual or on the manufacturer website. Lower wattage equals a longer cook time.
- When using a microwave, follow recommended cooking and standing times to allow for additional cooking after microwaving stops. Letting food sit for a few minutes after microwaving allows cold spots to absorb heat from warmer areas and cook more completely.
- The room temperature “Danger Zone” in which bacteria can multiply rapidly in food stands between 40°F and 140°F. Don’t leave perishables or plates of food out for more than two hours.
- Refrigerators should be set at or below 40°F and freezers at 0˚F or below.
- Know when to throw food out and pay attention to expiration dates. This chart can help serve as a guide for how long your food can last.
- Warm food should be kept in clean, shallow containers to promote faster chilling.
- Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, gradually in cold water, or in the microwave using defrost. Don’t thaw foods on the counter because bacteria grow fast in room-temperature food.
Dangerous Food Safety Errors to Avoid
The CDC highlights food safety mistakes and myths to avoid in their article titled “10 Dangerous Food Safety Mistakes.” Let’s list a few not previously discussed in this blog.
- Washing meat or poultry. Though it’s a good instinct to keep things clean, washing raw meat or eggs generally spreads germs throughout the kitchen, from the sink to countertops and other surfaces. These germs could spread to other ready-made foods and cause sickness. So don’t wash meat, but instead cook it thoroughly.
- Eating raw batter or dough, such as cookie dough. Any foods with uncooked flour or uncooked eggs should not be consumed raw because they may contain E. coli, Salmonella or other harmful bacteria. These items should be cooked before consumption. Wash hands, work surfaces and utensils thoroughly after using flour, raw eggs and dough.
- Peeling fruits and vegetables without washing first. Fruits and vegetables can have germs on their skins or peelings, easy to transfer to the inside if unwashed prior to peeling or cutting. Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water even if planning to peel them. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm fruits and vegetables like melons, avocados and cucumbers.
It is not recommended, however, to wash fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, bleach, disinfectants or even commercial produce wash.
- Eating Risky Foods if you are someone most at-risk. Of course, anyone can get food poisoning, but some groups of people are more likely to get sick and have a more severe reaction. This includes:
- Senior adults age 65 and older
- Children under the age of five
- People already experiencing significant health problems or taking medicines that weaken the immune system.
- Pregnant women
People most at-risk should avoid undercooked or raw meat, raw or undercooked sprouts, unpasteurized milk or juice, or soft cheese such as queso fresco unless labeled as made with pasteurized milk.
- Tasting or smelling food to check if it’s good. The germs that cause food poisoning cannot be tasted, smelled or seen. Tasting only a tiny bit can still make you sick. Reference a storage time chart. If the food has been kept too long, toss it.
For more helpful information about vital food safety, visit the CDC’s Food Safety Homepage.