Food contamination is a leading cause of illness, yet one of the easiest to avoid.
Whether it's for a family, party or just yourself, proper handling significantly reduces the risk of food-borne illness.
Proper food temperature is essential
The major causes of food-borne illness are improper temperatures for cooking, cooling, holding and reheating food. Bacteria grow vigorously above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
Keep food out of the danger zone
Most bacteria grow best in the "danger zone" between 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold foods need to be kept cold, not cool, and hot foods need to be heated to full temperature (135 or higher) and kept there while serving.
Proper cooking temperatures
Food needs to be cooked to the proper temperature to kill the germs that cause food-borne illness.
- Poultry, fish and stuffed meats need to be cooked to 165 degrees .
- Reheated foods need to be cooked to 165 degrees.
- Ground meat and hamburgers need to be cooked to 155 degrees.
- Other potentially hazardous foods need to be cooked to 145 degrees.
Don't take chances: follow these tips to safeguard your cooking.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure cooking temperatures are safe.
- Quickly cool hot foods to 41 degrees F or below.
- Check your refrigerator temperature; make sure it's no higher than 41 degrees.
- Use an ice chest to keep food cold on picnics or events away from home.
- Don't thaw frozen food by letting it sit out. Thaw in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or as part of the cooking process itself.
Other Safety Measures
Each step in food preparation matters in protecting you from disease. Keep the following in mind as you prepare and store your food.
- Cross-contamination: Never place cooked food on a plate which previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood. Wash utensils such as knives immediately after using them on meats.
- Handwashing: Always wash your hands before and after handling food. Use hot soapy water. Also clean your hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
- Surfaces: Wash surfaces often. Those preparing the meal should wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Refrigeration: Do not overload your refrigerator. Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours or sooner. Never defrost food at room temperature.