Food safety practices at home
Food safety is not just for restaurants or hospitals. Many foodborne illnesses can occur as the result of improper handling of food in the home.
When it comes to food safety, a lot of people are completely in the dark. There are a number of illnesses that can arise when food is cooked or handled improperly. Food poisoning is often associated with meats; however, dairy products, produce, canned goods and more can also be sources of food poisoning. That is why it is important to handle all foods with caution. To prevent yourself from making a minor mistake that could turn out to become a major issue, follow these four steps recommended by foodsafety.gov:
Always clean your hands before cooking or handling food. This means washing for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Also, clean your prep area and any equipment you are going to be using. How often do you wash fruits and vegetables before use? Washing produce helps decrease pathogens that could make you sick, gets rid of pesticides or chemicals on the outside of the produce and washes all the germs that may have contaminated produce while in the grocery store. It’s important to also wash produce with an outer rind, such as cantaloupe, before cutting into it as you could carry the germs into the edible portion of the fruit. Remember not to wash the produce with a rag or sponge that is also used for dishes. There is an exception to this however, we should not wash raw meat, because any bacteria present are likely spread throughout the meat, and you carry more risk of spreading the germs in the sink area by washing it. Any bacteria should be destroyed if cooked to the proper temperature.
To prevent cross contamination, use separate cutting boards and tools, such as knives, for meat and produce. You should also never use the same board to prep cooked meat if you just had raw meat on the same surface. Keep meats separate from other foods in the fridge or freezer. Whenever possible, put raw meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge. This way if the container starts to leak, there will not be food below it to contaminate.
The only way to be sure to kill off bacteria is to cook food to the proper temperature and you can’t tell this by just looking at it. Every kitchen should have an instant read food thermometer that should be used every time to determine if meat is cooked to the proper temperature. For temperature charts, visit the foodsafety.gov website.
Keep foods chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder to prevent any bacteria growth. Plan your meals for the week so that you allow time to thaw food properly by placing them in the fridge. If you didn’t allow time for that, you can run under cool running water or use a defrost setting on a microwave instead of sitting food out on the counter (but you must cook following microwave thawing to complete the cooking process). Throw foods out that have not been properly thawed and stored.
Michigan State University Extension recommends that all follow safe food handling, and has educational opportunities to learn more about food safety, including ServSafe certification classes, Cooking for Crowds, and also offers online safe food handling classes.