Food safety always matters

Keep food safe even when cooking at home.

Most of us are probably guilty of thinking that it is okay to cut corners when it comes to food safety if we are just cooking for ourselves or our families. However, bacteria grow no matter who you are feeding. Why would you cut corners when it involves the ones you love?

Food safety comes down to four basic words - clean, separate, cook and chill. No matter who you are serving, these basic steps should always be taken. 

Clean – clean up all spills, wash dishes, utensils and work areas. Wash your hands before handling food, after handling food and after using the restroom. This is just the beginning. Cleaning up garbage and properly disposing of waste or recyclables can be a chore that everyone in the household can do. Keep all pots, pans and utensils clean and free of debris and clean refrigerators and freezers regularly. Create a clean chore chart for everyone in the household to follow, and cleaning won’t take more time than you have.

Separate – when preparing food use separate cutting boards for each of these food items: fruit, vegetables, poultry, meat and fish. This will help ensure that cross-contamination does not occur. Be diligent about removing debris and wash, rinse and sanitize all cutting boards after use. Keep foods separated in the refrigerator by placing poultry and meat on the bottom to keep it from dripping onto other items in the fridge.

Cook – use a food thermometer when cooking. Bacteria can be killed during the cooking process if cooked to the proper temperature. The only way to be sure food has reached the proper temperature is by checking with a thermometer. Food also tastes better if it is not overcooked, which is another reason to use a thermometer. Use the chart listed on the Foodsafety.gov website to find the proper cooking temperatures for different types of food. Chose a thermometer that is easy for you to read and calibrate your thermometer often.

Chill – when taking care of leftovers it is important to cool foods as quickly as possible. Place them in shallow storage dishes with large surface areas. This helps the heat escape and allows the food to be refrigerated quicker. You might even want to leave your leftovers uncovered in the refrigerator to cool them faster, then cover, label and date the item. When we talk about chilling food to save it, we also need to do the same when we are thawing food. Bacteria can grow quickly in food during thawing. The best option is to thaw food in the refrigerator, but you do need to plan ahead.

Michigan State University Extension recommends following food safety guidelines when cooking for your family or for large groups of people. Let’s keep everyone safe from foodborne illness. For information on this or other topics contact a local MSU Extension office.

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