Safety should be just as high a priority as eating healthy
We’ve all heard how important it is to wash your hands before preparing food. But you might not always think about how handling raw meat, chicken, or fish can cause you to contaminate other foods and surfaces you touch throughout the kitchen. There are also other important precautionary measures to take as you shop for, store, prepare, and cook your food, to ensure it won’t make you—and your loved ones—sick. September is Food Safety Education Month—what better time to educate yourself?
According to www.eatright.org, 48 million Americans contract food poisoning every year. How can you help ensure you don’t become one of them? Let’s take a look at some helpful suggestions:
Safety begins in the store
- Always select produce that’s not bruised, and avoid canned or packaged items that are dented, rusted, or torn.
- Make sure there are no tears or open areas in packaging of perishable foods, especially raw beef, chicken, turkey or fish.
- Don’t buy foods that are past expiration dates, even if they’re on sale.
- In your cart, keep raw meats separate (and ideally underneath) all other foods.
Take care in the fridge
- “When in doubt, throw it out!” Take stock of the contents of your refrigerator once a week. Use leftovers within four days. Don’t taste food to see if it has gone bad; rely on sight and smell. If something looks or smells odd, get rid of it.
- Defrost food in the refrigerator; never on the counter. (You can also thaw in the microwave or in a bag in a bowl of cold water.) Thaw meats on the bottom shelf, away from other food.
- Marinate raw meat in the refrigerator, and discard the packaging immediately when you’re ready to cook. Never reuse the same marinade on cooked food that you used on raw meat, poultry, or fish.
In the kitchen: prepping and cooking
- Use separate cutting boards for vegetables and meats.
- Use a thermometer to ensure meat has reached a safe internal temperature (between 145 and 160 degrees, depending on the type of meat).
- Always wash fruits and vegetables prior to eating.
In general, use common sense, such as: keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Don’t reuse a container or utensil that has touched raw meat until you’ve washed it in hot, soapy water or put it through a cycle in the dishwasher. Pack up, store, and refrigerate food in a timely manner. If you’re traveling or planning a picnic, pack food in insulated bags or coolers with ice packs. And never eat raw cake mix or cookie dough (or anything else with raw egg and flour).
Dish towels and sponges are also breeding grounds for bacteria. Wash your dish towels frequently. That goes for sponges, too, which you can sanitize in the dishwasher or microwave. Replace sponges every week—just think of how much dangerous bacteria can build up in three or four weeks.
Take these tips to heart to keep your food safe, and you even safer from nasty bacteria and a potential bout of food poisoning! A little extra care and concern is worth it. Now, happy cooking and eating!
This article is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We offer an array of professional training programs at ten campuses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Reach out to us for more information today!