Food Safety Tips to Keep You and Your Family Healthy
If you’ve never had a bout of food poisoning, count yourself among the lucky ones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans gets food poisoning, or food-borne illness, every year. And while some types of food poisoning begin and end with a bad (really bad) stomachache, others are potentially life threatening.
While you can’t control food safety when you dine at a restaurant, you can ensure your kitchen never becomes a breeding ground for the bacteria that causes food-borne illness. Take the following steps to keep your family safe when you cook at home.
1. Keep it clean. Bacteria find plenty of hiding places in the kitchen: on cutting boards and countertops, under your fingernails and on utensils, to name a few. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before you begin preparing meals is important, but it’s equally critical after you’ve handled food. The same goes for cutting boards and utensils: Wash all surfaces with hot, soapy water after each use and before preparing the next food item.
How about cleaning foods before cooking them? Washing produce is a must. Start by removing any bruised or damaged areas, then clean produce under running water. Go a step further with firm produce like cantaloupe, potatoes and cucumbers by scrubbing with a clean produce brush. Don’t rinse raw meats or poultry, however, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Doing so increases the chances of contaminating sinks and countertops.
2. Cook with care. For starters, keep raw meats and eggs separate from other foods when you’re preparing a meal (and when you store them in the refrigerator). If you need to defrost certain food items, do so in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave—not on the countertop or in the sink. When cooking food, don’t just eyeball your dishes to determine whether they’re done: Use a food thermometer. See Foodsafety.gov’s chart noting safe minimum cooking temperatures for more. Finally, once you’ve eaten your meal, refrigerate leftovers promptly.
3. When in doubt, throw it out. Not sure how long that leftover pasta has been lurking in the fridge? It’s probably time to toss it. Leftovers typically last three to four days, according to the FDA. And don’t forget other foods that live in your refrigerator: cold cuts, eggs, condiments, wheat germ, produce, meats and so on. Get rid of any food items that smell strange or have outlived their use-by dates. Foodsafety.gov provides a chart noting storage times for the refrigerator and freezer for some foods.
Have any more tips to add to our list? Leave them in the comments section below.