Many food borne illnesses – which can be caused by a variety of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and parasites – are caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. While most of the food in the U.S. can be considered safe, food can become contaminated at any point in its preparation. There are many simple food safety rules that we can all practice in our home kitchens to keep our food safe. Here are a few:
- Wash hands when they are dirty. A good rule to follow is to wash your hands when you come home from being outside. (Just think of all the things you have touched when out shopping, running errands, etc.)
- Wash hands before handling food, and before and after eating.
- Wash hands after handling pets and other animals.
- Wash hands after using the bathroom.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Practice cough etiquette by coughing (and sneezing) in the crook of your arm.
- Keep kitchen surfaces such as countertops, cutting boards and other appliances clean.
- Check your can openers and clean them after each use.
- Wash dishcloths, sponges and towels often. Use hot water. *Tip: put sponges in your next dishwasher load to clean them.
- Replace worn sponges frequently.
- Whether you use wood, plastic, acrylic, glass or other type of cutting boards the key is to designate one strictly for raw meats and another for ready to eat foods such as breads, fruits and vegetables. Try using color-coded cutting boards. Designate a certain colored cutting board for vegetables and another colored board for meats to help you remember which one to use.
- Keep cutting boards clean by washing them thoroughly in hot soapy water after each use; or place them in the dishwasher after each use. The safest way to clean ‘meat’ cutting boards is to wash them with hot water and then disinfect them with bleach or other sanitizing solution. Keeping a spray bottle with bleach by your kitchen sink may be convenient.
- Discard cutting boards that have a lot of scratches or knife scars, cracks, crevices, splinters, etc.
Prevent Cross Contamination
- When storing raw meats, place them on a plate and store them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so their juices don’t inadvertently drip onto other foods.
- If washing produce before use, store in clean containers not their original one.
- Wash plates and other containers between use or use different plates to hold raw meats and other foods.
- Use one utensil to taste the food and a different one to stir the food.
- If you have a cut or other sores on your hands use gloves.
Proper Cooking Temperatures
- Cooking food to proper temperatures is a reliable way to reduce the risk of food borne illnesses.
- Using a food thermometer is important to ensure that food is cooked to a safe temperature.
- To ensure that red meats, chops, poultry etc. are cooked to their proper temperature, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat away from bone or gristle.
- Insert thermometer in the inner thigh area near the breast, but not touching the bone when cooking whole poultry.
- For egg dishes and casseroles, insert thermometer in the center or thickest area of the dish.
- For ground meat foods, insert thermometer into the thickest area. You may have to insert it sideways to reach the very center of a burger patty, for example.
- When cooking fish, cook until it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
- Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40º F.
- Foods should not stay out of refrigeration for longer than two hours. In very hot weather, food should not stay out for longer than one hour.
- When in doubt, check this website for more information about general guidelines about refrigeration leftovers: http://homefoodsafety.org/
Keeping your food safe once you bring it home is important to keep you and your family healthy. For more information on home food safety visit: http://homefoodsafety.org