By Diann Douglas
Each year, there is an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States, with approximately 325,000 people being hospitalized. These statistics are the reason USDA and the Partnership for Food Safety Education designate September as National Food Safety Education Month.
As an educator, I can tell you, it is hard to get people concerned about food safety. Since you can’t see or taste bacteria that cause food borne illness, it’s not considerate a possibility — out of sight, out of mind. Often, people mistake food illness for a 24 hour stomach virus or the flu. It is only the large outbreaks making headlines that might arouse some concern. The truth is; you are more at risk in your own home due to common practices that may put you and your family in jeopardy.
During National Food Safety Month, follow the four steps of food preparation to prevent foodborne illness in your home. First step is to clean everything! Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness. Anything that touches food should be clean. Wash your hands, often; before you prepare food and after you contact raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. If you answer the phone, help your child with homework or pet the dog, wash your hands before you resume cooking. Make sure countertops, utensils, and all food preparation surfaces are frequently cleaned.
Second practice you need to implement is to keep foods separate. The concern here is cross-contamination. Harmful bacteria from raw meats poultry and fish can be left on cutting boards and utensils then transferred to other foods. For example, you cut up raw poultry and then slice vegetables for a salad without washing the cutting board. You have contaminated the salad with bacteria that can cause illness.
Third practice; use a food thermometer when cooking. You can’t tell food is cooked safely by a visual check. A food thermometer allows you to determine the internal temperature of a food which will determine if the food is completely cooked. Harmful bacteria; like Salmonella or E coli are destroyed at certain temperatures and there are different recommended temperature for different food. USDA recommends steaks and roasts and fish be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F, pork and ground beef and egg dishes to 160°F, chicken breast to 170°F and whole poultry to 180°F.
Fourth practice you need to implement is to properly chill leftovers within two hours of cooking. Leaving food on the counter until it reaches room temperature is not a recommended practice. Most people are under the false impression that food needs to be at room temperature before it is put into the refrigerator, but that is not the case. The Danger Zone — temperatures between 40° and 140° F, is unsafe because harmful bacteria growth is rapid. Consider 40° is just above refrigerator temperatures and 140° is fairly warm to the touch, you have a broad range for bacteria to multiple. So, when you leave food to cool on the countertop, it is in this temperature range for a long time!
For large quantities of food like soup or a casserole, place leftovers in several smaller containers and place in different areas of the refrigerator to promote rapid cooling. Placing a large container of hot food or stacking several smaller containers on top of each other in the refrigerator will slow the cooling process. This also keeps food in the danger zone for an extended period of time, increasing the growth of bacteria.
Following the four recommendations offered by the National Food Safety Education Partnership will help you keep your food safe to eat and drastically reduce your family’s risk of foodborne illnesses.For more information on food safety, go to www.foodsafety.gov for charts on storing different foods. If you have questions, call us at the Madison County Extension Service.
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