Fall food safety tips
Following four core practices keeps it simple to keep food safe.
Routines are beginning to fall into place as the cooler weather arrives. Activities may be driving mealtime; making dinners take place on the run. Regardless of your schedule it is important to keep in mind the four core practices for food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
Take care to wash hands. Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, taking out trash or handling pets. Bacteria can be found everywhere in a kitchen. It is important to wash counter tops before food prep begins. Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils in hot soapy water, allow them to air dry, after preparing each food item and before you continue on to another food item. It may be helpful to have extra knives and cutting boards on hand to speed up your prep process. Consider using paper towels instead of dish towels, which can harbor bacteria. Always make sure fruits and vegetables are washed under running tap water before peeling, cutting or eating. Remember you can’t see or smell harmful bacteria; it is on all surfaces and skin. Taking the time to clean before prepping food will help reduce the chances of a foodborne illness.
Cross-contamination happens when harmful bacteria is spread from food to other foods, surfaces, hands or equipment. It can happen if equipment is used for raw food preparation and then for cooked or ready to eat food, or if someone doesn’t properly wash utensils, cutting boards or their hands. The word “separate” plays an important role in preventing a foodborne illness. Avoid using the same cutting board to cut up raw meat and then chop up lettuce or veggies for a salad. Another way to separate is to never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Remember separating is never re-using packaging materials from raw foods. A final reminder for preventing cross-contamination is to never wash raw meat before cooking, as this practice can splash bacteria around your sink area, possibly contaminating other foods.
Cooler temperatures bring changes to cooking practices. One of the biggest time savers is using a slow cooker. Using the slow and steady approach with a slow cooker is your best bet for a delicious and safely cooked meal. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Remember to cut meat and vegetables separately. Always defrost meat or poultry prior to putting it in the slow cooker. Cut food into small chunks to ensure thorough cooking. Regardless of the method, food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods; do not rely on color to determine doneness.
Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-fill refrigerators. Cold air must be able to circulate to cool the food. Make sure there is a refrigerator thermometer located near the front of the refrigerator to monitor temperature. The unit should be constantly 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Michigan State University Extension recommends following these four practices to prevent foodborne illness. Take the time to follow these simple steps of cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling your food, a few precautionary steps may be all it takes to remain heathy and enjoy the beautiful fall season.