Knowing the basic rules of food safety can keep your family healthy while enjoying your delicious creations.
Knowing the basic rules of food safety can help avoid foodborne illness and ensure a safe kitchen environment for ourselves and our families. Food safety is often overlooked in many home kitchens, but that should never be the case! By implementing these simple guidelines, we can stay safe and healthy while enjoying our favorite home cooked meals.
WHAT IS FOODBORNE ILLNESS?
Foodborne illness is any sickness caused by the consumption of “contaminated” food and can cause a myriad of gastrointestinal-related issues. Following these guidelines may even save you a trip to the doctor.
So how does food become contaminated? Well, certain foods may be exposed to bacteria, viruses, and even foreign objects that make them inedible. Foods at high risk for contamination tend to be high in water content, protein content, and low acidity. These are three conditions where bacteria thrive. Foods that fall under this criteria include meat, poultry, eggs, milk, tofu, and fish -so just be extra cautious when handling and cooking with them! Even though it sounds scary, it’s easy to avoid exposure to a potential foodborne illness. By the end of this post, you can feel secure cooking with different ingredients and even involving your kids in the process! Here are the important basics you should be following:
- WASH YOUR HANDS
By now, we all know one of the most effective ways to stay healthy is to wash our hands. This SAME rule applies in the kitchen. Before touching or working with any ingredient, make sure to wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. This ensures you have killed any bacteria that you may have picked up on your hands throughout the day. It would also be a good idea to tie back long hair so it doesn’t make its way into your food – yuck!
- TWO CUTTING BOARDS ARE BETTER THAN ONE!
Why should we have two separate cutting boards you may ask? This is because we
want to avoid cross contamination – or transferring bacteria from one surface to another (for example from a piece of poultry to a fresh vegetable we are chopping) which can help eliminate exposure to foodborne illness. So if you haven’t already, it is time to designate one cutting board to raw meat and poultry exclusively, and another for fruits and vegetables, or any other raw ingredient (this rule also applies to knives). An easy way to do this is choosing two different color cutting boards or labeling them so you don’t forget! Now you can safely slice, dice and chop your ingredients and safely enjoy your kitchen creations!
- TEMPERATURE MATTERS – COOKING MEAT
The temperature at which we cook all meat is incredibly important! We want to make sure we are killing off any bacteria that might live on raw meat, poultry or fish before we eat it.
Red Meat – A surface temperature of 165F will kill any bacteria on red meat. Since bacteria only lives on the surface of red meat, we can safely eat cuts that are rare to medium-rare on the inside, with the exception of ground meat, which must be cooked completely through.
Poultry – Poultry, on the other hand, contains bacteria throughout and must be cooked all the way through EVERY time, until the internal temperature reaches 165F. Because of its high risk, storing any type of raw meat on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator is another smart way to prevent cross contamination. Otherwise, juices from the raw meat may drip down and get onto fruits, vegetables, and other foods in your fridge.
Fish – When it comes to fish, unlike with the meats, it is not all about temperature. It’s vital to check for freshness before you start to cook. A fresh piece of fish should not smell too fishy – if you know what I mean. The internal temperatures may vary depending on how well-cooked you like your fish. As a general rule we usually want to see a color change from translucent to opaque!
Cooked fish should also have a flaky texture. That’s how we know it’s cooked completely through and you are safe to eat!
- COOLING, THAWING, REHEATING – OH MY!
Meal prep can be super helpful, but not if we don’t thaw, reheat, and cool our foods
correctly! Did you know that if not done properly, any one of these regular tasks can actually affect the freshness and health of your food!?! So, here are a few simple tips to follow:
Cooling – Never put piping hot food in the refrigerator; this will lower the overall temperature of the fridge, which can actually impact the freshness of everything else inside! Instead, use shallow containers or an ice water bath to cool food more quickly if you are in a rush. Otherwise, you can wait up to four hours for food to cool before it has to go into the refrigerator.
Thawing – The best way to thaw frozen food is to transfer it to the refrigerator and let it defrost overnight. If you are prepping a day-of meal and don’t have time for that, another way to defrost food properly would be to submerge the frozen food under cold running water, but NOT hot! Hot water can partially cook the food which will lead to uneven cooking. And if you are really short on time, you can also microwave with immediate cooking afterward! The reason you want to cook immediately after microwaving is because food can enter the temperature danger zone, or the temperature range that is vulnerable to bacteria growth. Cooking as soon as possible avoids the bacteria from multiplying, which can lead to foodborne illness.
Reheating – When reheating leftovers, make sure all food reaches an internal temperature of 165F for at least 15 seconds within two hours of being served (as recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture). This can be done over the stove, in the microwave or in the oven.
- STORE AND SERVE PROPERLY
Believe it or not, there are two important factors in how we store our food that play a role in food safety – time and refrigeration.
Time – Fresh meat and produce that is normally refrigerated should be thrown out after being left on the counter for two consecutive hours or four cumulative hours.
Refrigeration– Most foods need to be refrigerated after they are cooked- this is where food will be kept the freshest and should be stored until ready to eat! Some foods that do not need to be refrigerated include canned goods, dried fruit, and packaged nuts or seeds.
So there you have it! After reading through this post, I hope you’re feeling a bit more confident about food safety, and how to safely handle, cook, and store food to keep you and your family fed in the healthiest way possible. As always, cooking should be a fun, delicious and a safe experience for you and your family. 🙂