As winter ends and summer approaches, most of us will emerge from our houses and start enjoying the nice weather. Even better, hopefully we all will be hosting or attending numerous BBQ’s and get-togethers. Burgers, chicken, salads and the like will be readily available; however, how can we be sure we’re keeping our food and guests safe from a foodborne illness?
The more hands and foods involved, the higher the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Fortunately, today, we know much more about proper hygiene, food handling and preparation to combat these harrowing outbreaks.
According to the CDC, one in six Americans become ill due to foodborne illness each year. As the fight to combat this issue wages on, there are specific measures we can take to protect ourselves daily. While foodborne illnesses will likely never be eradicated, utilizing the ‘Core 4’ principles of food safety remain a viable approach to limiting its prevalence. This column outlines these ‘Core 4’ principles.
Infectious bacteria can thrive anywhere within the kitchen. By placing an emphasis on hand, utensil and surface washing, we begin to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The following are some easy-to-follow cleansing tips:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm running water before and after handling food or using the bathroom.
- Wash the surfaces of cutting boards, counters, dishes and utensils after each use with warm, soapy water.
- Use paper towels to clean counters or spills as they soak in potential contaminants, rather than spread them like cloth towels.
- Rinse or blanch the surfaces of fresh fruits and vegetables to rid of any dirt or bacteria.
Even though we now wash our hands and surfaces consistently, we can still be exposed to dangerous illness-inducing bacteria by not properly separating raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, we can follow these tips:
- Avoid placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that previously held raw meat, seafood, poultry, or eggs. An example would be: Placing your now-grilled chicken on the same plate in which you carried it to the grill.
- Use separate cutting boards when preparing fresh produce and uncooked meats. This eliminates the spread of any bacteria either may be carrying to the other.
- Request or separate raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs in your grocery bags. This eliminates the spread of bacteria in the event there is an unsealed package.
- Always properly wash the surfaces exposed to these raw items under warm, soapy running water.
Regardless of how proactive we are with cleaning and separating, we still must ensure that we cook our food to the appropriate internal temperature. Undercooking may result in the survival of dangerous bacteria that could make us ill. Foodsafety.org recommends the following safe minimum temperatures:
- Steak/Ground Beef: 160°F.
- Chicken/Turkey: 165°F.
- Seafood: 145°F.
- Eggs: Until the yolk and white are firm; for egg dishes warm until 160°F.
Last yet not least, we must also learn to appropriately chill our food. Chilling is important because it decelerates the bacterial growth process. By mitigating this, it allows us to reduce the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. The following suggestions are encouraged:
- For starters: Always keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below.
- Do not over-pack your refrigerator. Proper airflow circulation is paramount.
- Refrigerate any meats, egg, or perishables immediately upon return from the store.
- Do not allow raw meats, egg, or fresh produce to sit out for more than two hours without refrigeration.
By taking these principles into consideration, you can ensure the protection of your friends, family and self, leading to better times and memories gained.
FoodSafety.gov. Food Poisoning. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/index.html