Avoid these common food safety mistakes

Making a few changes to the way you prepare your food can help prevent the spread of bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Making a few changes can help prevent the spread of bacteria. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers some common food safety tips to help you avoid getting sick.

Five of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics top food safety tips:

  1. Avoid tasting food to see if it’s still good. Food safety proponents remind us that taste and smell are not reliable indicators of food safety. Foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria may not give off smells or off flavors For example, salmonella bacteria found in chicken generally does not affect the taste or smell of the food. Spoilage organisms that cause off-flavors would deter you from eating a food before the microorganisms that cause food-borne illness. Tasting just a small amount of contaminated food could cause serious illness.
  2. Letting food cool before putting it in the refrigerator. The amount of time plus warm temperatures equals the growth of bacteria. Refrigerators are designed to chill food and keep it cold. So here is the best rule of thumb: don’t leave food sit out of the refrigerator more than two hours. “Illness causing bacteria can grow rapidly when perishable food are left in the temperature danger zone (TDZ) between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit”. Bacteria can double in the TDZ in as little as 20 minutes.
  3. Washing meat or poultry. Research supported by Food Safety.gov/and Michigan State University has demonstrated that washing meat or poultry can spread bacteria in the kitchen, to countertops and even on you. “Water can splash bacteria up to 3 feet surrounding your sink, which can lead to illnesses. We call this cross contamination”. The most effective means to kill bacteria or pathogens in meat and poultry is to cook it to the proper internal temperatures as noted in the temperature chart using a meat thermometer.
  4. Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Using a food thermometer is the only way to make sure that pathogens and bacteria have been killed and that food is safe to eat. The thermometer will register the internal temperature of the food.
  5. Thawing food on the counter. There are four correct ways to thaw food and leaving food out on the counter contributes to the growth of bacteria and foodborne illness.
More tips:

In a refrigerator at 41 F or below. This is one of the safest ways to thaw foods. Be sure to use a drip pan under the food being thawed so that the drippings do not contaminate other foods. Thaw raw foods below ready to eat food so that drippings do not contaminate food.

Use a microwave to thaw foods that are to be cooked immediately following the thawing process. Microwave thawing actually begins the cooking process and should be followed by cooking the food item. 

As part of the cooking process, allow more time than normal to cook and stir the food more often. Check the final internal food temperature with a thermometer to determine that potentially harmful bacteria have been killed. 

You can thaw food under cold running water, but limit this method to no more than two hours at a recommended water temperature of 70 F or below. A clean and sanitized food sink separate from hand wash sinks is needed. Avoid cross contamination from the water dripping off of the food or splashing onto other foods and preparation surfaces and utensils. 

Avoid these food safety mistakes and help to ensure that family and friends stay healthy. For more tips on food safety, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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