Tips to prevent bacteria from growing on your food

It's important to be aware of the way you're storing and handling your food to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Food recalls, foodborne illnesses and outbreaks have been in the news quite a bit lately. To avoid getting sick, we first have to understand what bacteria needs to flourish and taint our food.

Remember the following to keep your food safe:
  • Bacteria need food to grow, just like we do. So if you have food, you could also have bacterial growth.
  • Bacteria enjoy foods that are neutral to slightly acidic. They will not grow in highly acidic foods like lemons and vinegars, but will grow well in vegetables, meat and some fruits.
  • Temperature needs to be considered for bacterial growth. Bacteria like temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and this is known as the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ). They grow even more rapidly when kept at temperatures from 70 F and 125 F, so you must limit the time foods stay at these temperatures.
  • Bacteria needs time to grow. The more time spent in the TDZ, the more bacteria can grow and make the food unsafe to eat. Remember the two-hour rule, and put foods away within two hours of eating. If the temperature outside (or inside) is really warm, put foods away within one hour of eating.
  • Oxygen is needed for bacteria to grow, but some, like the botulinum toxin grow best in climates without oxygen. Making sure your canned goods aren’t dented at the seams, or bulging, are ways to avoid this deadly toxin. Also, use research-based and up-to-date recipes when home canning. Contact Michigan State University Extension for information on home food preservation.
  • Bacteria, lastly, need moisture to grow – just like us! Dry rice is not a hazard, but once you incorporate water, it can lead to bacterial growth. Cold, moist foods must be kept at 40 F or lower and hot foods at 140 F or higher.

To keep foods safe, remember to keep foods out of the Temperature Danger Zone, and if your food sits out, make a habit of getting your cold food in the refrigerator within two hours. Your hot food should be cooled quickly and put away in that timeframe as well. 

For more information on food safety contact Michigan State University Extension, your local MSU Extension office.

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