Food safety may not be something that crosses your mind on a regular basis. However, it typically only takes one bout of foodborne illness to realize just how important food safety is. Below are five quick tips you can follow to minimize food safety risks in your kitchen.
Step 1: Wash Your Hands
The first step to food safety is handwashing. To ensure you are getting your hands clean, scrub your hands using soap and warm water for 20 seconds. This can seem like a long time when you are washing your hands. To help gauge the time, sing the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself twice. After you are done, rinse your hands thoroughly in warm water and dry using a single use paper towel. Once your hands are clean, you are ready to get started in the kitchen!
Step 2: Clean Your Produce
As a reminder, fresh fruits and vegetables are grown in fields, on vines, on trees, and in the ground- where they are exposed to dirt, insects, animals, and the weather. The produce is then harvested and transported, sometimes many miles, before it ends up at the store where you buy it. Regardless of whether the produce is organic or not – we need to wash it before it gets eaten.
To wash produce, hold it under running water and gently rub the produce to remove any exterior dirt. If the produce has a firm outer skin, you can use a clean scrub brush to gently scrub the produce. This works well with produce such as cucumbers, squash, and melons. For produce you plan to slice before eating, such as melon or oranges, it still needs to be washed before cutting. This prevents dirt from the outside of the produce from being transferred onto the knife, cutting board, and ultimately the produce you plan to eat.
Step 3: Separate It
When you are preparing food in the kitchen, we want to avoid cross-contamination. This happens when bacteria from one food transfers onto another. For example, if you are planning to make roasted chicken and a fresh salad for dinner, if you start by cutting the chicken and then use the same knife and cutting board (without washing it) to cut the vegetables for your salad – the bacteria from the chicken can be transferred onto your vegetables. Cooking the chicken will kill the bacteria. Since you are not heating your vegetables for the salad the bacteria stays alive and can make you sick.
To prevent this from happening it is important to separate foods that are ready to eat, such as fresh produce, from those that require cooking, such as meat, fish, and poultry. Always make sure to wash and sanitize the knife, cutting board, and counter between food items and especially before cutting any foods that will not be heated prior to eating.
Step 4: Hot Food Hot, Cold Food Cold
A key aspect of food safety is temperature control. It is necessary to cook foods to the appropriate internal temperatures to kill harmful bacteria. The USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart is a great resource to keep handy. Use this chart as a guide to ensure foods are cooked to the necessary internal temperature. In addition to cooking, we also want to hold food at the appropriate temperature – holding hot food hot and cold food cold. We commonly refer to the temperature range of 40°F – 140 °F as the “Temperature Danger Zone” as bacteria grows quickly within this range. When holding food, we want to hold hot food above 140 °F and cold food below 40 °F to help prevent bacterial growth.
Step 5: Throw It Out To Reduce Food Safety Risks
An important aspect of food safety is knowing when it is safe to keep food and when we should throw it out. Any food items that are held without temperature control for two hours or more should be thrown away. This applies to foods we commonly leave sitting out, such as pizza or deli trays. It is also important to clean out your fridge on a regular basis and get rid of leftover meals. Generally after 3-4 days in the refrigerator leftovers should be thrown away to prevent the possibility of getting a foodborne illness. For more tips on storing leftovers safely – visit the USDA’s website: Leftovers & Food Safety.
Following these basic principles can help decrease the risk of food safety concerns when preparing and storing food at home. Even with busy schedules and multiple priorities, making time for food safety is important. Next time you head to the kitchen to prepare a meal remember: Wash Your Hands, Clean Your Produce, Separate It, Hot Food Hot, Cold Food Cold, and Throw It Out!