9 Steps to Safe Food Handling

Food safety begins when you shop. Follow these easy steps to help prevent food contamination as you buy, store and cook your groceries.

At the Supermarket:

  1. Shop for cold food last. Get them home fast.
    Bacteria thrive at room temperature. So, shop for perishable foods – such as meats, fish, eggs, poultry and dairy products – last. After you shop, don’t run errands or stop for gas. Get your groceries home and into the refrigerator fast.
  2. Avoid “grocery cart cross-contamination.”
    Wrap perishables in plastic.
    Cross-contamination can occur when juices from raw meat, fish or poultry come into contact with other foods, utensils or surfaces. To avoid cross-contamination when you shop, put these items in plastic bags before placing them in your cart so they won’t drip on the other items.

    At the check-out counter, pack your meat, fish and poultry in a separate plastic shopping bag so the juices can’t leak and contaminate other foods during the drive home.

At Home:

  1. Keep it Cool. Check your refrigerator’s temperature.
    Bacteria multiply best in the “temperature danger zone” – between 40°F and 140°F. Temperatures below 40°F slow the growth of most bacteria. So, for proper food storage, keep your refrigerator at or below 40°F and your freezer at or below 0°F.

    Place an appliance thermometer (available in the kitchen utensils section of most grocery stores) inside both the refrigerator and freezer to check temperatures at both locations.
  2. Eat it while it’s fresh. Follow the “First In, First Out” rule of thumb.
    Organize your refrigerator and freezer with the older foods in front so they will be used first. Date each package so you can remember to use it within an appropriate time period. Resealable plastic bags are a convenient choice because you can write the date and content right on the bag.
  3. For safety’s sake: when in doubt, throw it out.
    Never taste foods to see if they are safe. Most food poisoning bacteria can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. For safety’s sake, the best thing to do is wrap the suspected food and discard it so your family and pets can’t get to it.
  4. Cook foods thoroughly to the right temperature.
    Cooking foods properly is critical because thorough heating is necessary to destroy harmful pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking ground meat to an internal temperature of at least 160°F and all poultry to at least 165°F.

    To check visually, ground meat is done when it is brown or grey inside, poultry is done when its juices run clear, and fully cooked fish flakes with a fork. However, it is best to use a meat thermometer to verify that it is cooked all the way through.

    Cook eggs until yolk and white are firm, not runny. Scramble eggs to a firm texture. Avoid recipes that call for eggs to remain raw or partially cooked.
  5. Lock out oxygen. Lock in flavor and nutrients.
    Oxygen is a major cause of food spoilage and vitamin loss. Keeping oxygen out will help preserve the nutrient value of your food and help keep it fresh.

    When using plastic wrap, bags or containers to store perishables, squeeze the air out and seal lids tight. Store food in small, shallow (less than two inches deep) containers with lids.

    Tightly wrap meat, poultry and seafood in plastic wraps to help minimize transfer of odors and flavors. Then, place them on a plate or in a resealable plastic bag so they don’t drip and contaminate other foods or the surfaces in your refrigerator.
  6. Be a bacteria buster. Keep your kitchen squeaky clean.
    Before handling, cooking and serving food, wash your hands with hot, soapy water and make sure that all cooking utensils, equipment and surfaces are clean. As you prepare a meal, don’t reuse cooking utensils and dishes; use clean ones instead. Remember to keep sponges, dishrags and dishcloths fresh too. To help keep sponges clean, put them in the dishwasher every time you run it.

    Any time you handle raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs, wash your hands and utensils thoroughly and disinfect counter tops and other kitchen surfaces.
  7. Keep cutting surfaces safe. Use plastic cutting boards.
    According to the USDA and FDA, plastic cutting boards are preferable to wood because cracks and cuts in wooden cutting boards can harbor bacteria. To avoid cross-contamination you may want to use two cutting boards – one for produce and the other for meat, fish and poultry. Put the plastic cutting boards into the dishwasher for daily protection.

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