By: Keeba Smith
Many people associate September with Back-to-School and fall. September is also known as National Food Safety Education Month. It was created in 1994 to heighten the awareness of food safety education. Why do we need to educate people about food safety? Because eating is a part of daily living. Whether you eat at home or on the go, someone must handle and prepare your food. Proper food handling can keep you and your family from getting a foodborne illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 Americans contract some type of foodborne germ or illness every year. That is roughly 48 million people getting sick from a foodborne pathogen. It is also estimated that 128,000 people are hospitalized with severe cases of food poisoning and 3,000 die. Majority of the different disease-causing germs can contaminate our foods.
There are Four Core Practices that will help fight foodborne germs:
Handwashing is a critical aspect of food safety. You can never wash your hands too much when handling food. It prevents the spread of pathogens. Wash your hands and surfaces as often as possible. Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, after using the restroom, changing a diaper and handling pets.
Bacteria can contaminate many surfaces in your kitchen, such as cutting boards, utensils, counter tops and food. Surfaces should be cleaned with a bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of cool water). This will kill and disinfect all areas where bacteria can breed and grow. Clean your surfaces after preparing each food item and before going on to the next.
Fruit and vegetables should be washed under running tap water before consumption. Hard skinned fruits and vegetables should be cleaned with a clean vegetable brush or under running tap water before cutting. Bacteria can hide in the nooks and crannies of the rind then get onto your knife as you are cutting your fruits and vegetable causing contamination.
Try using paper towels instead of a cloth kitchen towel. Disposable paper towels are better because they do not need to be washed like a cloth towel. Cloth towels should be washed often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Bacteria can be spread through cross-contamination. What is cross-contamination? It is a fancy name for bacteria on one item getting onto another item by direct contact. It can occur when juices from raw meat touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
To prevent this from happening, raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs must be kept separate from other foods. If possible, use a separate cutting board for raw meats and fresh produce. Never put cooked food on a plate or pan that held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs without properly washing in bleach solution. Also allow raw meat to thaw at the bottom of the refrigerator.
To kill harmful bacteria that causes foodborne illness, food must be safely cooked to its minimal internal temperature. Some meats like chicken and beef tend to brown on the outside giving them the appearance of being done when they are not. A food thermometer must be used to make sure the minimal internal temperature has been reached. Each food item has their own internal temperature.
- Whole beef, veal, lamb, and fresh pork should be cooked to at least 145°F then allowed to cool for 3 minutes before carving.
- Ground beef and eggs dishes should be cooked to at least 160°F.
- All poultry, ground chicken and turkey must be cooked to at least 165°F
The yolk in a cooked eggs should be firm, not runny. Make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive. When cooking in a microwave, cover food, stir, and rotate to make sure it is cooked evenly. Sauces, soup and gravy should be brought to boil when reheating. Partially cooked food allows bacteria to multiply rapidly.
Temperature control is crucial to reduce pathogens. Properly refrigerating food slows down the growth of harmful bacteria. Bacteria breeds at room temperature. The most effective way to prevent the risk of foodborne illness is to keep refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below. The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below.
Food should never defrost or marinate at room temperature. It must be kept at a safe temperature while defrosting. The safest way to allow food to thaw is in the refrigerator. Food can also thaw in cold water but the water needs to be changed every 30 minutes. The microwave can also be used. However, food thawed in cold water or in the microwave needs to be cooked immediately.
Meat should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as you get home from the store. Any perishable that has sat out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour at 90°F or higher) needs to be thrown away. Leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as possible. If the portions are large then separate them into shallow containers allowing them to cool faster in the refrigerator.
While September is National Food Safety Education Month, safe food handling should be practiced year round. With the four core practices, you will reduce yours and your family’s risk of getting a foodborne illness. Fighting bacteria should be an everyday thing.