September is National Food Safety Month, a campaign of the Partnership for Food Safety Education with the goal of teaching consumers about safe food handling. It’s hard to convince people their daily food handling practices may be putting their family at risk for food borne illness. There are many different bacteria responsible for food-borne illnesses, and they are all invisible to the human eye, and you can’t taste or smell them either. Most people dismiss food illness as a 24-hour bug, and it often goes unreported.
According to national statistics, each year there is an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness in the United States, with approximately 325,000 people being hospitalized. These statistics are the reason the USDA and the Partnership for Food Safety Education want consumers to follow the following guidelines of food preparation to prevent food-borne illness in your home.
Clean everything: Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food-borne 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.
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.
Use a food thermometer: 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 temperature, and there are different recommended temperatures for different foods. The 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.
Use the two-hour rule: Chill leftovers within two hours of cooking. 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, are unsafe because harmful bacteria grow rapidly. Food left to cool on the countertop is in this temperature range for a long time!
A large quantity of food, like soup or a casserole should be stored in several smaller containers and placed 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.
With the recent power outage from Hurricane Irma, many homes were without electricity for several days. There is always a resistance to dispose of food that has been in the refrigerator or freezer after an outage. If you have questions about the safety of your food supply, call the Madison Extension office, and we can walk you through the criteria. Best rule of thumb though: when in doubt, throw it out.
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 food-borne illness. For more information on food safety, contact the Madison County Extension Service.
The University of Florida Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.