Food Safety At Home
Imagine for a moment, you’re at your friend’s house watching the big game with a group of friends and there is a spread of chips, dips and snacks out on the coffee table, or how about attending a friends baby shower and the table is full of potluck dishes all the guests have made and brought to the party. How often do you consider how long the food has been sitting out or how it was prepared? It isn’t the most fun thing to think about, but food safety and sanitation is really the most important aspect to consider when preparing food, whether it be cooking dinner at home or preparing a dish for the pot-luck party. You don’t have to be a germ-a-phoebe in order to practice these simple food safety and sanitation rules.
- These are the most common food preparation mistakes to make:
- Touching Clean Surfaces or Ready-To-Eat Foods With Raw Meat.
- Thawing Frozen Foods on the Counter.
- Letting Foods Cool Down Before Placing in the Refrigerator.
- Not Heating Foods to the Proper Temperature.
- Eating Raw Cookie Dough or Batter.
- Washing Produce in the Kitchen Sink Basin.
- Not washing Your Hands Enough.
- Properly Handling Raw Meat, Poultry and Seafood.
Never place cooked meat, poultry and seafood back on the same plate that held the raw meat. Raw meat should always be kept separate from all other food during storage and preparation. Don’t forget about the spatulas, utensils and cutting boards as well. For example, be sure to use a different utensil to take the burgers off the barbeque than used to place the raw patties onto the barbeque. It is also good to have designated cutting boards at home so that the risk of cross-contamination is avoided. Foodborne pathogens found in raw meat, poultry and seafood can contaminate produce and ready-to-eat foods.
Thawing frozen foods on the counter is NOT a good food practice. Thawing foods on the counter takes a long time, which leaves the foods out at an unsafe temperature, allowing pathogens to multiply and risks cross-contamination with other foods or objects. The safest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator. Move the frozen food item from the freezer into the refrigerator the night before cooking. Other safe ways to thaw your frozen foods is under running COLD water (not warm or hot water) in a sealed container or plastic bag, cooking the frozen food as is or thawing it in the microwave.
Example: While at a friends home for dinner, a couple people conversed in the kitchen while the mother prepared burgers in the stove top for dinner for the family and a couple guests. The frozen raw burger patties were set out on a plate on the counter while the mom prepared other ingredients for the meal. In an attempt to multitask (as mothers often do), she paused her meal preparation to fix the family dogs dinner. She placed the dog’s old, chewed, unclean food bowl on the counter next to the thawing burger patties. She mixed up a tasty dinner for the pet and then placed the bowl back on the floor in its usual place.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Dogs and pets, as much as we love them like a family member, carry many germs and bacteria not natural to humans. A pet’s food bowl is no exception to their germs and placing it on the counter and next to the raw meat is a major safety hazard. Being conscious of cleanliness in the kitchen is key to safety.
Properly Heating and Cooling Foods
In the food industry the term “danger zone” is used to describe the temperate range that is unsafe to store or hold food for longer than 2 hours. The danger zone is considered anything between 40°-140° F (1). These temperatures are the most ideal for pathogenic growth. A common mistake is to think you should let food cool down before placing it in the refrigerator. A good way to cool your hot food down is to separate it into smaller Tupperware containers and place inside the refrigerator within 2 hours of sitting out. It is also critically important that you heat your meat, poultry and seafood to proper temperatures. Undercooked meat could pose risk of food borne illness due to the possible bacteria or pathogens surviving the cooking process because the temperature was not hot enough. Everyone should know the internal food temperatures for meat and poultry when cooking at home. The internal temperature should be maintained for at least 10 minutes and tested with the proper meat thermometer.
Meat: 140° F minimum
Poultry: 165° F minimum
Food should be left out at room temperature for no more than 4 hours. After 4 hours food should be thrown away. If you are traveling with prepared food, make sure to secure it in either an insulated cooler or warming container.
“Don’t Eat the Raw Cookie Dough!”
How often did you hear that from mom as a kid? Well it was for good reason. Eggs can have salmonella, the most common bacteria to cause food borne illness, and as a common ingredient in baked goods it is unsafe to eat the raw dough or batter. A little trick to avoid salmonella contamination when cooking with eggs is to thoroughly wash the outside of the eggshell with soap and water. Salmonella lives on the surface of an egg, not on the inside, so simply washing your eggs can cut the risk of contamination.
Never Wash or Soak Your Produce in the Kitchen Sink Basin
The sink is where you wash dirty dishes, dump food and waste down the garbage disposal and clean countless other filthy items, and you can bet its got tons of germs all around. Even if you are a relentless cleaner, what’s below the drain and in the garbage disposal is out of your cleaning reach. Cleaning the surface of your fruits and vegetables is important because you don’t know what bacteria may be lurking there before bringing it home. The kitchen sink basin is not a reliably clean space to wash your foods. It is however, okay to rinse produce under the faucet without touching the walls of the sink basin. Instead, try filling a large sanitized bowl with clean water and soak your produce there. A few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in the water will also help kill bacteria present on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables.
Wash Your Hands
Lastly, and the easiest of all, is the importance of washing your hands. Washing your hands is the easiest way to prevent the spread of bacteria. As simple as it sounds, washing your hands is important for your health and the health of others. Step-by-step instructions on the proper way to wash your hands can be found at the CDC’s website.
- Brown A. Understanding Food Principles and Preparation. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Cengage; 2011.