In researching this article I came across a statistic that really surprised me: 70% percent of all food-borne illnesses is contracted in the home. Not that I had never given it much thought; I assumed that restaurants, carnivals, festivals etc. had the potential for improper food handling. We all need to be mindful of how we handle our food whether it is meats and poultry, vegetables, home preserved food or foods that we prepare outdoors on the grill. By following a few simple rules we can ensure the safety of our family and friends that dine with us.
Safe handling of meat and poultry
Raw meat and poultry may contain bacteria that can cause illness if handled unsafely or cooked improperly. Ground meat and poultry are more perishable than most food so it is especially important to follow techniques that help prevent food borne illness.
Keep raw meats and their juices away from other food. For example, wash your hands, counters, and other surfaces in hot soapy water after handling raw meat. Don't let raw meat juices touch ready-to-eat foods. Don't put cooked food on the same plate that held raw meat or poultry.
Use a separate cutting board for fresh produce and ready to eat foods. This will control the spread of bacteria and prevent cross contamination. Use another separate board for raw meats and poultry.
To clean the cutting board, wash it in hot soapy water, rinse and air dry, or wash in a dish washer. Nonporous acrylic, plastic or glass boards and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split).
To sanitize the cutting board, submerge the board in a gallon of water treated with one tablespoon of chlorine bleach, then air dry.
All plastic and wood cutting boards wear out over time. Once cutting boards become extremely worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded.
All perishable foods should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Freeze fresh meat immediately if it won't be used within 1 or 2 days.
Safe Handling of dishes containing dairy products
Dairy foods that should be discarded if kept above 40 degrees F for over 2 hours. These include the following:
- Muenster and other soft cheeses, including Mozzarella and Colby-jack
- Low-fat cheeses
- Milk, buttermilk, opened cans of evaporated milk, soy milk, opened baby formula
- Sour cream and yogurt
- Eggs, including hard-cooked and egg dishes
- Custards and puddings
Certain dairy foods can be safely kept at room temperature, such as these:
Hard cheeses, including cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, Romano and Provolone
Processed cheese, like individually wrapped slices and "Velveeta" types
Grated hard cheeses like Parmesan, Romano or a combination, in a can or jar
Butter or margarine
Think about where these products are displayed at the grocery store. Many processed cheese slice packages and grated cheeses in jars are in non-refrigerated areas. That can be a clue as to what doesn't need refrigeration.
Safe Handling of fresh fruits and vegetables
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling or cutting fresh produce. Rewash hands after using bathrooms, sneezing, coughing, and handling trash or anytime hands become soiled or otherwise contaminated.
Inspect produce for obvious signs of soil or damage prior to cutting, slicing, or dicing. When in doubt about damaged produce, either cut away the affected areas or do not use the item. Discard any produce with bruises or soft spots.
Wash produce before serving or cutting using continuous running water, do not soak produce or store in standing water.
Do not store fruits and vegetables together. Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (the ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil surrounding vegetables.
Another potential spot for food borne illness is cooking on the grill.
- Whether you are using your own grill or a public grill at a park or campground, scrub the grill area with hot, soapy water before each use if possible.
- Allow the charcoal or gas flame to burn at high heat for several minutes before introducing food to the grill.
- Wash your hands before, during and after food preparation. Since bacteria can easily transfer from the body to foods and surfaces, wash your hands thoroughly after switching tasks. This is especially important after handling raw meat.
- Pack moist novelettes or a hand sanitizer in your cooler for when soap and water are not readily available.
Safely Thaw and Marinate Meat
- Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the countertop or by the grill.
- Marinate meat in the refrigerator.
- Never use the same brush to baste raw and cooked meat. Wash brushes in hot, soapy water between uses.
- Boil any leftover marinade before using it to season cooked meat.
Don't Share Ware
- Use separate cutting boards, plates and grilling utensils when handling raw meat and ready-to-eat foods. Color-code them to easily separate items used with raw foods.
- After using knives, grilling tongs or forks with raw meat and poultry, clean them thoroughly with hot soapy water.
Cook It Right
- Grilled foods can be harmful if not fully cooked. The only reliable way to ensure meat is safe and ready to eat is by using a meat thermometer. Checking the color of meat or juices does not work.
Use the following internal temperature guide:
Steak: 145°F (Allow to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming)
Chicken: 165° F
Watch the Clock
Don't leave food, even if it's fully cooked, out of refrigeration for extended periods of time.
Put all dishes in the refrigerator within two hours. In hot weather (90° F or warmer); this time is reduced to one hour.
- Set out perishable food items in one-hour shifts. After each shift, place uneaten food back in a refrigerator set below 40° F.
Lengthen the staying power of perishable foods by keeping them on ice. Keep a refrigerator thermometer on hand to make sure foods stay chilled properly in the cooler or refrigerator.
Let Leftovers Go
Leftover grilled foods have a refrigerator life of three to four days. If you don't finish a leftover within this time frame, toss it.
Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165° F before serving a second time around. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer.
Boil leftover sauces before reusing them on cooked meat.
Home Food Preservation
Last but not least I want to talk about home food preserving specifically home canning. I have been preserving for over 40 years; became certified as a Master Canner in the 1970's and recertified in 2011. I have been teaching classes on preserving over 5 years. It never fails at my classes when someone asks about taking shortcuts, doubling recipes or other ways to deviate from the recipe. This is a NO-NO!
It is vital to always use tested recipes when canning to make sure that you end up with a safe home canned product. University Extension Services never recommend changes in research-based, tested recipes designed for home canning - at least not any changes that affect the process that safely preserves the food. Improperly home canned salsas and other tomato-pepper combinations have been linked to botulism poisonings.
When canning, use a tested recipe that is research based, including recipes at the
Ball Blue Book (Available at most bookstores, online, or where preserving supplies are sold.)
When using recipes for salsa do not change the thickness by adding more tomatoes, cornstarch or anything that will change the consistency. Do not add more vegetables or leave out the vinegar or lemon juice. The only changes that you can safely make when canning salsa are:
- Substitute bottled lemon juice for vinegar
- Changing the types of dried spices and herbs
- Changing the amount of spices and herbs
- Reducing the number of hot peppers and replacing them with the exact same amount of green peppers or onions
The specific recipe and sometimes preparation methods will determine if a salsa can be processed in a boiling water canner or a pressure canner. The process must be scientifically determined for each recipe to be safe. The National Center for Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. You are going to want to bookmark the site once you are there because it has a wealth of food preservation information, including multiple recipes. All of the information at this site is taken from the Complete Guide to Home Canning and offers important insight about the canning process.
I know many of you are thinking that we used to eat jams and jellies sealed with paraffin. And we ate foods that were hot packed and not processed in a boiling water bath. These methods have been proven to be unreliable methods of food preservation. For the sake of protecting your family and friends follow acceptable methods and procedures.
By following these steps in your food preparation will ensure that you and your family can enjoy a safe happy summer season.