Keep foodborne illnesses out of winter meals

Careful preparation of chili, soups and stews will avoid foodborne illness.

It is officially the winter season. The cold temperatures of the season have many folks thinking of hot chili, soup or a stew to take the chill off. As preparation of these delightfully warm meals takes place, there are some things to remember to avoid inviting a foodborne illness bug to the table.

Clostridium perfringens is a foodborne illness bug that loves it when chili, soups, and stews are not prepared and cooled properly. As one of the most common foodborne illness bugs in the United States, clostridium perfringens averages one million cases of food poisoning a year. One of the best ways to avoid clostridium perfringens is to prevent cross-contamination between raw meat and ready to eat foods.

Michigan State University Extension recommends washing, rinsing and sanitizing all food preparation works surfaces, knives, cutting boards and utensils. After sanitizing the surfaces, gather all of the ingredients together and measure them out in the appropriate amounts. To prevent cross-contamination, brown the meat before adding it to the other ingredients in the chili, soup or stew. Another way to avoid cross-contamination is to use clean and sanitized cutting board and knives to chop the foods with. Another alternative is to use a separate knife and cutting board for the raw meats and a different cutting board and knife to cut up the vegetables.

Cooking the chili, soup, or stew to the minimum internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit is one way it ensures the chili is hot enough. To verify the temperature of the chili, use a calibrated thermometer. The chili, soup, or stew should not spend more than two hours waiting to be served, because it is right on the edge of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 F. If the chili has been allowed to be in the temperature danger zone for two hours, it will have enough bacteria grown to cause someone to become ill.

After serving the chili, soup, or stew, it should be broken down into smaller portions so it will cool quickly. Using a shallow pan, no more than three inches deep, will provide a large area of the soup to be cooled quickly. Refrigerate or freeze the leftover chili, soup, or stew. The chili should be cooled to below 40 F within the two hours. If the chili, soup, or stew is not cooled properly, Clostridium Perfringens will have a field day in growing to a dangerous level.

To reheat the leftover chili, soup, or stew, it should be heated up to above 165 F. Use a food thermometer to make sure it is 165 F. If a microwave is used to reheat the soup, stir the soup frequently to create an even 165 F throughout the soup. If reheating on the stove getting the chili, soup, or stew to a rolling boil is a good indicator that it has been reheated properly. Never use a slow cooker or chafing dish to reheat chili, soups, or stews. These appliances are not designed to reheat food. These appliances are only designed to keep a food at about 140 F.

Although the weather outside is frightful, serving piping hot chili, soup or stew could be just the ticket to warm up your insides. Keep that hot food hot and safe!

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