Warm weather is finally here! To ensure your family and guests stay safe and healthy during get-togethers, here are some reminders on how to safely handle and prepare food.
Buying and Storing Food
Safe food handling begins the moment you step into a grocery store. Pick up your perishable food items last so they spend less time out of the cold environment. When picking out your perishable items make sure to check that the packaging is not torn and that the package feels cold. Place your meats in the plastic bags that are provided by grocery stores to prevent juices from dripping on the other food in your cart. Plan your trip with the intention of going straight home after purchasing perishable food items, or plan ahead and have a cooler with ice in your vehicle to prevent harmful bacteria growth in your foods. Once home, place your perishable items in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible and never leave it out for more than two hours. If storing raw meats in your refrigerator, ground meats and poultry should be used within 1 to 2 days and beef, veal, pork, lamb steaks, roasts, and chops within 5 days.
Proper food preparation begins with proper hand washing. Hand washing is the best way to protect against foodborne illnesses. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water between different tasks in the kitchen. Also make sure the area in which you intend to prepare food is clean and that you have plenty of clean utensils and platters available to prevent cross-contamination. Wash all fruits and vegetables prior to consumption. Fruits and vegetables that don’t need peeling can be washed with clean water and if peeling, they should be washed with soap and water.
If you plan on grilling with frozen meats, allow it to completely thaw out so that it can cook evenly. For safe thawing, use the refrigerator to ensure that the meat does not thaw out too quickly. You can also thaw sealed packages in cold water.
Thoroughly cooking meats to a safe minimum internal cooking temperature is the only way to protect against foodborne illnesses caused by harmful bacteria that may be present in raw meats. The color of meat and poultry is not a reliable way to determine whether it has been thoroughly cooked. The only way to determine whether it has reached a safe minimum internal cooking temperature is to use a food thermometer. A list of safe minimum internal cooking temperatures for meat can be found here.
Leftovers should be refrigerated promptly. Food should be discarded if left out longer than two hours or, one hour if the temperature is higher than 90 degrees. Leftover cooked meat can be refrigerated for about 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze leftover cooked meat, it should keep good quality for about 4 months. For safe storing, refrigerators should be kept at a constant 40 degrees or lower to prevent the growth of foodborne illness causing bacteria. Also be careful to not overfill the refrigerator to allow air to circulate.
Warm summer weather is great excuse to get together with family and friends but don’t let food poisoning ruin your fun. Following these tips will help ensure everyone stays healthy and safe.