It’s all over the news. We’ve been warned against contaminated eggs, tainted peanut butter and most recently possibly poisoned cucumbers and sprouts. But what does it all mean for us, the consumers? We still have to eat. Should we be wary of all foods? The answer is yes and no. While deadly strains of E. Coli, like that seen in Germany, are probably not lurking in your pantry, it is important to follow proper food safety and preparation guidelines. Food safety, as with a lot of things, is an area where a little bit of information can go a long way in helping you to protect yourself against sickness.
A great place to start gathering info is at FoodSafety.gov. The site is a collaboration between the different governmental agencies that play a role in food safety, including the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the purpose of this article isn’t to praise the site, for the average consumer, such as myself, it’s got all the information on food safety that I need, from proper cooking temperatures, and food preparation and storage, to food safety for events (think parties, packed lunches, etc.)! They even post food recalls and alerts.
So while I really advocate that you go to FoodSafety.gov and check it out for yourself (some of the tips can be surprising. For example, did you know that basic food safety principles apply to your pet too?). I’ve also summarized some of the basic tips that I gleaned from the site that you can put into practice in your kitchen…
Clean: While this may seem like a no-brainer (remember in kindergarten when we all had to line up before lunch to wash our hands), it bears repeating. Think about all the things you touch throughout the day. Washing for about 30 seconds, or two verses of “Happy Birthday” helps to rid your hands of all the nasty things you might have picked up. The same thing goes to your food, cooking surface and supplies, make sure to give them a good rinse (with soap) before using to ensure you wash off whatever they might have picked while in your fridge, on the self, in the store, etc.
Separate: Raw meats and eggs can contain harmful bacteria, so it is important to keep them separate from other foods (especially those you eat raw or won’t be heated enough to kill bacteria, like lettuce or tomatoes). In your fridge, seal meats up to keep them separate from other foods. When cooking, make sure to thoroughly clean knives, chopping boards, etc. before using them again.
Cook: If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen (okay that was corny). Bacteria can’t stand heat. By cooking foods to the proper temperature for the proper amount of time you can kill foodborne illnesses. Using a food thermometer can help to determine whether your food has reached these temperatures (what to know what they are? Check it out.) It’s also important to make sure perishable foods (those foods that can go bad when unrefrigerated) maintain a safe temperature. The FDA provides safe temperatures of many common perishables including, meats and eggs.
Chill: Refrigeration is key. Storing foods in the refrigerator prevents bacteria growth. Just make sure that your fridge and freezer are at the proper temperatures (refrigerators should be around 40o F and the freezer around 0o F).