Food safety knows no season. Everyone should have basic knowledge of how to prevent foodborne illness. Read on for some basic skills to keep you and your family safe!
Proper hand washing alone could eliminate nearly half of all foodborne illnesses. Start by washing your hands in warm, soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. Always wash your hands front and back up to your wrists, between fingers, and under fingernails. Don’t forget to wash your hands after switching tasks such as handling raw meat and then cutting vegetables. Dry hands with disposable paper towels, clean cloth towels or air dry.
While preparing foods, be sure to keep raw meat and ready-to-eat foods separate to prevent cross contamination. Consider using two cutting boards in your kitchen: one strictly to cut raw meats, poultry and seafood; and the other for ready-to-eat foods, such as breads, fruits, and vegetables. Cutting boards harbor harmful bacteria if not correctly cleaned. Cutting boards should be washed thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use, and allowed to air dry or pat dry with fresh paper towels. Discard old cutting boards that are worn with cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars.
After purchasing produce, be sure to refrigerate it as soon as you can. Fresh produce that has been peeled or cut should be refrigerated after two hours to prevent bacterial growth. When storing cooked vegetables, they are safe for three or four days. Anything kept longer should be discarded.
Cooking food to it’s proper temperature can destroy harmful bacteria. Using a thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine the doneness of cooked foods.
At barbecues and picnics, avoid leaving foods out for more than two hours, and in hot weather, no more than one hour. Be mindful of the food “danger zone.” Bacteria multiply rapidly temperatures between 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Not a very appetizing thought.
After you’ve finished a meal, be sure to refrigerate foods quickly and at a proper temperature. Make sure your refrigerator is holding food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing this will slow the growth of harmful bacteria and prevent the possibility of foodborne illness.
Don’t forget cleaning! Keep kitchen surfaces such as appliances, countertops, cutting boards and utensils clean with hot, soapy water. A smelly dishcloth, towel or sponge is a sure sign that unsafe bacteria is lurking nearby. Bacteria live and grow in damp conditions, so whether you use a dishcloth, towel, sponge or paper towel, change or wash them often.
Feel like eating out? Don’t let your doggie bag make you sick! Put your restaurant leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you can. Writing today’s date on the container and making sure to eat it within five days will help to avoid problems. When reheating, remember to use a food thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, don’t forget the old adage: when in doubt, throw it out. The life you save may be your own.
Mary Koch is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome — send questions to Mary C. Koch, R.D. in care of this newspaper.