New Year's food safety refresher: how are you doing?
New Year's resolutions often focus on weight loss and exercise. This year how about resolving to improve your food safety habits? According to the Center for Disease Control, 85 percent of all foodborne illness could be prevented if people just handled food properly. Here's a refresher of the key steps to keeping food safe and preventing foodborne illness.
Check your refrigerator temperature and other cold facts
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator with a refrigerator/freezer thermometer you can buy at a grocery, variety, or hardware store. To keep bacteria under control, the refrigerator should run at 40 degrees F or lower; the freezer unit at 0 degrees F. Generally, keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without freezing your milk or lettuce.
- Freeze fresh meat, poultry, or fish immediately if you can't use it within a two days of purchase.
- Thaw food in the microwave or refrigerator, NOT on the kitchen counter or in the sink. The danger? Bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws.
- Put packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish on a plate before refrigerating so their juices won't drip on other food. Raw juices often contain bacteria.
Keep surfaces and tools clean, clean, clean
- Wash hands in hot soapy water before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
- Use hot soapy water to wash countertops, tables, all surfaces, and the refrigerator door handle (one of the dirtiest spots in the kitchen). After washing and rinsing off the suds, follow up with a sanitizing solution of one teaspoon of bleach to one quart of warm water. Spray on the clean surfaces and air-dry (if possible).
- Bacteria can live in kitchen towels, sponges, and cloths. Wash and replace them often.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish and their juices away from other food. For example, wash your hands, cutting board, and knife in hot soapy water after cutting up the chicken and before dicing salad ingredients.
Check the temperature of your food
- Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of food. Several types of thermometers are available at grocery, variety, or hardware stores. Cooking foods to the minimum internal temperature will kill any harmful bacteria that are in the food.
- Minimum internal temperatures are: 145 degrees F for whole meats (beef, pork, veal, lamb) plus 3 minutes stand time for safety; 160 degrees F for ground meats, no stand time needed; and 165 degrees F for all poultry, ground or whole. Cooking to higher temperatures is fine.
- Perishable food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of serving or throw them out.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165 degrees F. Check the temp with a thermometer.
Reviewer: Suzanne Driessen, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, Food Safety