January 2018
Homeplace & Community

New Year’s Resolution:

Prepare Food More Safely

Food safety is not something we usually think about when we are making our New Year’s resolutions. In fact, it is likely you will promise to lose weight, exercise more, read more, spend less, stop smoking, start spending more time with family, plant more vegetables, etc., etc., etc.

A resolution is simply a course of action you have decided on that you are determined to complete. Why not try making a food-safety resolution? Most of these options are MUCH easier than losing 10 pounds. Follow these few simple steps and everyone in your family will thank you because they avoided an unnecessary foodborne illness.


Buy (and use) a food thermometer.

It is important to ensure foodborne pathogens, microorganisms that cause disease, are destroyed during the cooking process. This makes a food thermometer an essential food-safety tool. There is no other way to determine if a hamburger, roast or piece of salmon is sufficiently heated.

Buy the thermometer and follow these temperature guidelines for cooking:

  • Roasts and steaks to a minimum of 145 degrees

  • All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees

  • Ground meat, whether it is sausage, fish or hamburger meat, to at least 155 degrees (color is not a reliable indicator of doneness)

  • Whole pieces of fish as well as steaks and chops need to reach 145 degrees

  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil (212 degrees) when reheating

  • Reheat other leftovers to 165 degrees


Wash your hands before preparing food.

Sometimes when we do things routinely, we can get complacent. We may think a quick little rinse under some tepid running water will do the trick. It will not. Scrub your hands for at least 10-20 seconds under running water WITH SOAP. The soap helps to break up the soil hiding the microorganisms on your hands. Then the running water can do its job and flush the soil and bacteria away.

Be sure to wash again after handling raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs or produce; between handling different foods; after coughing, sneezing or handling garbage; or after contaminating hands in any way.


Don’t cook for others when you are sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, ill food workers are often the source of foodborne illness outbreaks. In some cases, restaurants have closed due to lack of business resulting from a well-publicized outbreak.

While you may not work in food service, if you are preparing food for family members, friends or housemates, it makes sense to heed this advice: Do not prepare food for others if you are sick particularly with vomiting or diarrhea. Even if you are suffering from a really bad cold or flu with extensive coughing and sneezing, it may make sense to let someone else do the cooking.


Wash your fruits and vegetables before eating – all of them.

It is as simple as that. Wash all fruits and vegetables just before preparing and/or eating them. Wash under running water and use a scrub brush on hard rinds. Wash the rinds even if you do not eat them.

Washing will not guarantee all raw produce is germ-free, but it will reduce your risk.


Think twice about eating raw animal foods.

Most foodborne pathogens come from the intestinal system of animals (animal feces). When animals poop out the pathogens, they can contaminate soil, water, plants and other sources of the food we eat.

It makes sense that eating animal foods that have not been cooked sufficiently to destroy the pathogens is risky. Therefore, it is best to eat them cooked and cooked enough to destroy the pathogens.

If you are a healthy adult, you may choose to take the risk and eat raw clams, raw milk or raw beef (carpaccio), but children and immune-compromised individuals should avoid raw animal products altogether.


Buy (and use) a refrigerator thermometer.

Refrigerator thermometers are important to make sure foods are being kept at the right temperatures. Inside the refrigerator should be 40 degrees or lower. The thermometer should be near the door, maybe on a side wall so it can been seen every time you open the door.

It is obvious to most of us that refrigeration is essential to keep food from spoiling. But the cold also keeps the bacteria causing foodborne illness from multiplying. Temperatures above 40 degrees can support faster growth of bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and other microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness.

Freezer temperature should be O degrees to keep food solidly frozen.


Learn how to cool foods safely.

Cooking to the proper temperature is one way to make foods safe. But if there are leftovers involved, it is only part of the story. To keep food safe after cooking, it is important to chill the food quickly.

Break the food down to small amounts, no more than 2-3 inches thick. Either put it in ice water to cool down quickly or leave uncovered for about 30 minutes for it to cool enough to freeze or refrigerate.

If foods are not cooled to below 70 degrees before being placed in the fridge, make sure, if covered, you do so loosely. If not, it will take forever to cool when the lid is tight.

Also, don’t overload the refrigerator. Air needs to be able to circulate to keep items cool.


Throw out leftovers if they are over six days old.

During food preparation, perishable food travels in and out of the danger zone several times: from the processor to the store, to your car, to the kitchen, to the refrigerator or freezer, to the counter for preparation, to the oven, to the table and to the refrigerator, again.

Each trip through the danger zone, or through several pairs of hands, can increase the number of microorganisms on the food. In addition, some pathogens such as listeria can grow and multiply even at 40 degrees in the refrigerator.

Use your leftovers as soon as possible. Date them if you cannot remember when they were first served.


Teach others how to handle food safely.

Many folks simply do not know how food makes people sick. They do not understand that food can look and smell perfectly fine, and still be contaminated.

At your church supper, the soup kitchen, a neighborhood picnic or wherever you see or share food-preparation duties, be sure to share your knowledge of how to prepare food safely so you do not have to share a foodborne illness.


Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.