LEARN A LITTLE MORE ABOUT FOOD SAFETY
and those little things you can do to prevent foodborne illnesses
Food Safety Tips: By Melissa J. Mixon, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.
Work to prevent foodborne illness as you buy, store, cook, and serve food. When you must care for food in a hurry, keep the food safe by following these rules:
- Keep food hot
- Keep food cold
- Keep food clean
KEEP FOOD COLD
Germs cannot multiply fast if the storage temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Store meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese in the refrigerator. At the grocery store, always pick up meat, poultry, and dairy products last. Take them home using a Seagull bag and put them in the refrigerator or freezer quickly. If these products get warm, the possibility of foodborne illness and spoilage increases.
When you bring meat home using a Seagull Cooler Bag from the store, remove the butcher wrapping and cover it loosely with wax paper. Leave cured and smoked meats, such as bacon, in the original wrap until opened; then rewrap tightly in foil or plastic.
The refrigerator life of meats varies from 1 to 7 days. The most perishable meats are ground beef, veal, lamb, ground pork, and variety meats. They keep only 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator. Fresh beef, veal, pork, lamb, and leftover cooked meat will keep 2 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Smoked sausage, bacon, a smoked whole ham, and corned beef will keep 7 days. Protect your investment in meat; use it before it loses its quality.
The best way to thaw meat and poultry is to leave it in the refrigerator overnight or during the day while you are at work. Alternate methods include thawing it outside the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag under cold running water, or in the microwave. Allow it to get just warm enough to thaw and still cool enough to slow down germ growth, particularly on the meat surface. A good time-saver is to cook meat while it is still frozen.
Store luncheon meats and viennas in the refrigerator. Do not treat them as though they cannot have foodborne-illness germs -- they can. Even stored in the refrigerator, hot dogs and lunch meats should be used within a week. Open and close packages as few times as possible. Handle cold meats (or any meats) with a fork or tongs, not your fingers. Fingers spread germs.
If you take your lunch to work, try preparing, packaging, and freezing sandwiches ahead of time -- then making your lunch is a quick process and a safe one, too. By lunch your sandwich is thawed, yet cold enough to prevent bacteria from growing.
|Ground Meats / Poultry
|Variety Meats (e.g. liver, kidney, heart)
|Stewing Meat, Short Ribs, Stir-fry Strips, Kabobs
|Whole Chicken / Turkey
|Chicken / Turkey Pieces
|Cooked Meats / Poultry, Cold Cuts
*Number of days from the "packaged on," or the purchase date if you buy from a full service meat counter.
Once vacuum packs are opened, the meat should be used within the number of days recommended in the Storage Chart, even though the "best before" date may be later.
Life Begins At 40 (Degrees Fahrenheit). Keep Meat, Poultry Or Seafood Either Below 40°F (4°C) Or Above 140°F (60°C)
Never Defrost Meat, Poultry or Seafood At Room Temperature.
The safest way to thaw meat, poultry or seafood is in the refrigerator, allowing 6-9 hours/lb. (14-20 hours/kg).
KEEP FOOD HOT
Most germs that cause foodborne illness are killed when you boil, broil, or roast foods. But when food stays warm (less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for 2 hours or longer, germs can produce poisons that are not destroyed by heating. Once food is cooked, keep it hot until served; refrigerate leftovers at once. Leaving food at room temperature for more than 2 hours (including preparation times) may allow foodborne-illness germs to multiply. These germs seldom change the taste, color, or look of food.
Some foods require special precautions. For example, know what kind of ham you have bought. Some need to be cooked; others are fully cooked and can be eaten as they come from the package. Check the label. If you have any doubts, cook it.
Cook poultry products thoroughly. If you prepare turkey, chicken, or duck in advance for cooking, store in refrigerator. Store giblets and stuffing separately. Do not stuff the bird a day or two ahead of the cooking time. Stuff it just before roasting. Refrigerate in separate dishes leftover, deboned poultry and stuffing as soon as possible. This hastens the cooling time.
KEEP FOOD CLEAN
Do not buy foods from containers with these faults: leaking, bulging, or damaged cans; cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids. Do not taste or use foods with a foul odor or any food from a can that spurts liquid when you open it. These foods could contain the rare and often fatal botulism poison. Botulism is found more often in home-canned foods than in commercial products; but be careful either way.
If you keep germs off meat, poultry, and dairy products, you avoid problems. Clean utensils, platters, hands, and countertops with soap and hot water. Germs are a natural part of the environment. You must keep washing them off things, especially off your hands. Do not handle food if you have infected cuts or sores. Even if you are in a hurry, always cover any sore carefully before handling food.
Be careful you do not spread germs from raw meat to cooked meat. If you carry raw hamburgers to the grill on a platter, wash the platter before putting the cooked hamburgers on the platter. Otherwise, there will be germs on your cooked hamburgers.
Never prepare food to be eaten raw on the same chopping board as cooked food. After cutting raw chicken, wash the chopping board with a good detergent and water. Cutting boards should be sanitized from time to time by dipping them for two to three minutes in a solution containing two teaspoons of chlorine bleach per quart of water and then rinsing thoroughly. This prevents transferring bacteria from one food to another.
Keep pets out of the kitchen, and teach children to wash their hands after playing with pets.
Remember, three key rules to keep food safe even when you are in a hurry: Keep food hot. Keep food cold. Keep food clean. Under most circumstances, these rules and common sense will protect you and your family from foodborne illness.
If you do get sick, see a doctor. Think about how you stored, cooked, and served foods in the last few days.
AT THE STORE
Always buy your cold meat last. Take food home and refrigerate fast. Choose packages of meat that are cold and tightly wrapped, without tears or holes. Check labels for a "packaged on" date or "best before" date. Quality and food safety decrease after the "best before" date. Don't buy anything you won't use before the "best before" date.
Ask the cashier to pack meat with any frozen items to keep them cold longer. Pick up refrigerated and frozen meat last. Get these foods home and into a refrigerator or freezer IMMEDIATELY.
Keep the refrigerator at 4 degrees C (40 degrees F) or less. Keep the freezer at -18 degrees C (0 degrees F) or less.
Promptly put store-wrapped pork into the meat compartment or on a plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so they can't drip onto other foods.
Don't tightly pack the refrigerator. Space items so that the cold air can circulate around them. If you won't be using ground pork within 1 day, freeze it. All other cuts can be refrigerated for 1 to 3 days. Freeze them for longer storage. Always marinate pork in the refrigerator.
By Melissa J. Mixon, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., Human Nutrition Specialist