Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September is National Food Safety Education Month

I'd like to give you a few simple reminders about food safety, since this is National Food Safety Education Month. Sometimes we take food safety for granted ... keeping leftovers out a bit too long until we get around to putting it away; leaving hot food at room temperature for hours until all the company has arrived; or taking a chance on eating ten day old take-out because "it smells okay"!

Here are five food safety tips to keep you and your family from getting food poisoning:
1. Cook food thoroughly: This means using a meat thermometer when cooking meat, fish, or chicken. All meats should be cooked to at least 145 degrees--even if rare--but poultry and pork should be cooked to at least 165 degrees, ground beef to 160 degrees. Always place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food and away from the bone.
2. Cool food thoroughly: When putting away leftovers, allow food to cool down a bit before placing it in the refrigerator. If the leftover dish is quite large, consider dividing it into smaller portions. The refrigerator should be cold enough to keep chilled foods at 40 degrees or below.
3. Treat leftovers with care: Leftovers should be put away in the fridge or freezer within two hours. If you have company coming late and your meal is sitting out at room temperature, opt for keeping the food warm in the oven so that it doesn't cool down to less than 140 degrees. When re-heating leftovers, only warm up enough for you to eat at that sitting; continuing the cycle of reheating food, placing it back into the refrigerator, then reheating it again the next day, increases the chances of acquiring a foodborne illness.
4. Handwashing: Always wash your hands before cooking, after handling raw foods (such as meat or chicken), after using the restroom, and before eating. The number one cause of food-poisoning is poor handwashing. Use warm water, lots of soap, and rub your hands together to create friction for at least 20 seconds each time you wash your hands.
5. Avoid cross-contamination: This is what happens when you use the same knife, counter, or cutting board to cut raw chicken, then raw vegetables for a salad, or fresh fruits for dessert, or a loaf of bread. Just as your hands can spread germs to the food you will eat, so can a knife or a cutting surface. Any time a utensil comes in contact with raw meat it should be thoroughly washed before cutting anything else. Some people have a special cutting board, or special knives, they use just for raw meat, and another they use for fresh fruits or vegetables. Just be sure everyone who uses the kitchen knows the rules!

It all comes down to staying out of the danger zone (40-140 degrees) where bacteria grow easily and quickly, keeping HOT foods HOT and COLD foods COLD. And always remember, "When in doubt, throw it out"!

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