In recognition of National Food Safety Education Month, we are presenting a four part mini-series here on the Food Bank blog. You’ll get information and ideas you can act upon to make your food and your family safer!
Here is Part 2: Food Safety in Your Kitchen: The 3 Most Important Things to Know
While you can’t really control what happens in the kitchens of the restaurants you eat at, you certainly can control what goes on in your own kitchen. With that in mind, in recognition of National Food Safety Month, we’ve broken down food safety in your kitchen to the bare bones, need to know information. Here are three things you need to know to keep your kitchen safe for you and your family.
1. Wash Your Hands. Never underestimate the power of the frequent hand wash. As you prepare food, germs on your hands get passed from every item you touch. Subsequently, everyone who eats the food you handle and prepare is subject to whatever germs or bacteria you have on your hands. Why expose them when all you have to do is turn on the warm water and soap up those hands?
A few pointers on when and how to wash hands:
After you touch raw meat, wash your hands. Failing to do so may transfer bacteria.
Before you touch any cooking utensils, cleanse your hands.
Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.
Warm water is more effective at removing germs than cold water.
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Rub in between your fingers, the back of hands, and fingernails.
Dry your hands using paper towels.
2. Avoid Cross-contamination. Simply put, you don’t want meat juices mixing with other foods. This happens in a variety of ways. For example, if you have raw meat in your refrigerator, juices can drip down. That said, you want to keep them separate on the bottom shelf, so they’ll have nothing to drip on. And don’t forget to wipe out the refrigerator after storing raw meat.
You also want to consider your cutting surface. Where are you chopping up your meat? Make sure you thoroughly clean the surface after you cut. Also make sure that the surface is solid. If there are any holes in the cutting surface, raw juices can get in the crevices and dry up. Later on, food you put on the cutting surface can become cross contaminated.
And finally, don’t store anything in the same container as your raw meat. It’s always the best bet to keep it separate.
3. Know (and Avoid) the Danger Zone. Maybe you’ve heard of it—the temperature zone in which bacteria thrives, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Your job, at all costs, is to keep food out of this temperature zone. That means you need to:
Cool foods properly. Did you know that not properly cooling foods is the number one cause of food-related illnesses? That said, you need to take extra precautions to keep food cooled. First and foremost, don’t leave meats out on the counter. And if they sit out for two hours or more, get rid of them. Make sure your refrigerator needs to be set at 40 degrees or less. Also consider cutting up large pieces of meat into smaller chunks before refrigerating, so they will cool more evenly.
Thaw foods properly. First of all, please don’t just throw meat out on the counter to thaw it. That’s just asking for trouble. Same goes for soaking it in hot water. Instead, if you have the time, let it thaw over night in the refrigerator. Just make sure not to cross contaminate. Otherwise, try thawing in cold water. Just make sure you change out the water frequently. Finally, you can thaw in the microwave, but make sure you cook the meat immediately after thawing, as the microwave will likely already begin the cooking process, introducing the meat to the danger zone.
Cook foods properly. When you’re cooking food, your number one objective should be to get it in and out of the danger zone as quickly as possible. Invest in a good digital meat thermometer to make sure the food has successfully left the danger zone before you finish cooking it. For a list of safe cooking temperatures, click here. Note: Keep in mind, it’s not just for meat, either. When you chop up fruit and veggies, you want to make sure you keep them out of the danger zone as well.
Keep your kitchen safe. All it takes is clean hands and a watchful eye!
Community Food Bank’s mission is to provide food, nutritional education and advocacy for our neighbors in need within San Benito County.