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Safety Precautions When Handling Food


Many people don't think about the germs that are spread when handling food in the kitchen. Often, people assume that the food they eat is perfectly safe, but the truth is, unless everyone that has handled that food has used proper sanitation guidelines, bacteria could be present.

Bacteria can be found on raw or undercooked meats, as well as counter and stovetops. They multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (out of refrigeration and before thorough cooking occurs). Leaving meats, especially chicken, out on the counter to thaw increases the amount of bacteria on the food and countertops and can lead to illness.

The USDA breaks safe food handling down into four basic steps:

  • Clean - wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate - don't cross-contaminate
  • Cook - cook to proper temperatures
  • Chill - refrigerate promptly

Knowing and understanding these four basic guidelines can help reduce the risk of food borne organisms causing your family to get sick.

Shopping

When it comes to grocery shopping, keep the following in mind:

  • Purchase refrigerated or frozen items after non-perishables
  • Never choose meat or poultry in packaging that is torn or leaking
  • Do not buy meats/foods past the expiration date

These may seem like common sense steps to take; however, there are a surprising number of people who do not pay attention to these things. Many people in a grocery store are distracted with everything going on around them. Too often people go in with the mind set that they will rush through and get out. They don't pay attention to what they are picking up and when, so if the frozen foods are on the end that they walked into, then those get picked up first. That gives the food the opportunity to reach that 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit where bacteria begin to rapidly multiply.

Storage

  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours; 1 hour if the temperature is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Cook or freeze poultry, fish, and ground meats within two days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork are fine within 3-5 days
  • Check refrigeration temperatures regularly: refrigeration should be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and the freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and below

Again, these seem fairly straightforward, but they are common mistakes that people make.

Thawing

The preferred method for thawing is the refrigerator. This allows for slow, safe thawing. Plan ahead; chicken breasts can usually thaw overnight whereas chicken with bones may take a day or so. It is possible to thaw meats in cold water - not warm or hot water as this begins cooking the meat. Place the meat in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold water. Change out the water every 30 minutes and cook immediately after thawing. The USDA says that you can thaw meats in the microwave so long as they are immediately cooked afterwards, but cautions against warming too long in the microwave.

Be sure that foods are cooked thoroughly before serving and use good hygiene when handling foods. The Golden Rule also applies to cooking: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. You don't want someone else licking utensils and then using them to serve food to you, so don't do it to someone else. Pay attention to your safety tips in the kitchen and make sure everything is kept clean and sanitized. That is the best way to avoid food borne illnesses.


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