Think you know food safety?
Did you know that 1 in 6 Americans (or about 48 million people) get sick every year from food eating contaminated food, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Or, that 128,000 of those individuals requires hospitalization, and that some 3,000 die?
September has been designated as National Food Safety Education Month? Following four simple steps of food safety is critical to your health, and easy to incorporate into your daily food preparation. Let’s take a look at each:
1 – Clean
Start clean, and stay clean.
Before handling foods, wash your hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
Don’t forget to wash your cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water as well. As an added precaution—especially if you are handling raw meat, poultry and seafood in between handling fresh produce—sanitize your cutting boards and countertops with a solution of one tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Even simpler, after each use, place your cutting board into your dishwasher along with the utensils and let it run through the wash cycle.
Rinse fruits and vegetables under tap water before use, and include those fruits and vegetables whose skins and rinds are not eaten.
And, before you open up your canned food items, rinse the lids.
2 – Separate
Separate, not contaminate.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from one food item spreads to another. You don’t want to use the same cutting board for handling raw chicken, poultry, seafood and meat as you do with your fresh fruits and vegetables. The key idea here is to keep these foods and their juices away from fresh and ready-to-eat foods. Use two separate cutting boards. A good idea is to use different-colored boards or mats for different types of foods: as example, a green board/mat for your fruits and veggies and a red board/mat for your meats.
Don’t reuse marinades that were used on raw foods.
And, never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs and hasn’t yet been washed thoroughly (with hot soapy water or in the dishwasher).
3 – Cook
Heat up… all the way.
Cook your foods to their safe internal temperature.
Appearances can be deceiving… and they’re no way to tell whether a food is properly cooked. Always use a food thermometer. Foods are safely cooked when heated to the safe minimum internal temperatures recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and/or the Food and Drug Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Health). A good idea is to keep a chart with internal food temperature recommendations near your oven and grill, and keep a food thermometer handy to check your cooking temperatures against the chart’s figures.
4 – Chill
Cool down… all the way.
Cold temperatures in our refrigerator slow the growth of harmful bacteria. So, set your refrigerator temperature to 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t forget to refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and other perishables within two hours for typical room temperatures, or within one hour when the room temperature climbs to 90 degrees or higher.
Never thaw foods on your kitchen countertop. Thawing food in your refrigerator provides the highest safety, but takes the longest. If time is short, you can thaw in cold water or even your microwave. But, with the cold water and microwave option, you need to cook the food immediately!
When you have leftovers that need to cool before going into your refrigerator, place the food in several shallow containers for quicker cooling. Remember, you have limited time to get the food into your refrigerator before harmful bacteria begin to thrive.
Keep these four basic steps in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to practicing food safety.
Test your food safety knowledge, take a brief quiz.
Learn more on how to keep you and your family safe and away from foodborne pathogens, visit;
- UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County (or your local Extension office)