Most all of us are aware of the basics of safe food preparation but many have fallen into a habit of not doing everything we should to prevent the growth of harmful pathogens that could make us and the people we feed sick.
Detective Foodsafe® often hears, “I have never washed my counter or hands before and I am OK.” But are you really? Old habits aren’t always correct habits when it comes to food safety.
For some, food safety is a new concept, so learning the basics is a good step toward achieving it.
We have learned so much through science and technology in the last few years that can help us avoid the risk of foodborne illness.
“Getting out of the habit or ignoring food safety basics can put you and your family at risk for contamination that leads to food poisoning,” warns Detective Foodsafe.
Basic practices — at least — need to be followed every time.
Food Safety Is In Our Hands
If you haven’t spent a lot of time in the kitchen, you may need a primer on food safety basics or maybe just a reminder of the importance of practicing food safety every time you enter the kitchen, as our biggest risk comes at our own hands.
Many believe that food recalls due to contamination, such as the multi-state outbreak in the news last year from romaine lettuce contaminated by E. Coli, cause the greatest amount of illness, but the fact is that foodborne illness risk is much more prevalent from our own food handling practices.
Outbreaks such as the leafy green recall account for only a small percentage of food safety failures compared to food handling by consumers, processors, and retail food preparers.
Detective Foodsafe says it is important we practice the basics every day to protect ourselves.
Food Safety Basics
There are things we can do each time we prepare food in our kitchens to reduce our risk of getting food poisoning.
The first of these food safety basics needs to be done over and over again during one meal preparation and is the foundation of safe food handling. Unfortunately, we often overlook it as not necessary or just a pain in the neck.
(1) Hand washing!
Most of us are pretty good at washing our hands before we start to prepare food for a meal but do we wash before giving the kids a snack?
Do we wash again after handling at risk foods, such as poultry, eggs, and other raw foods?
Do we wash between raw foods and ready to eat foods such as fruit or salad?
Do we wash your hands again if you sneeze or cough?
How about if we push the hair out of our face or touch the pet?
We really need to wash more often than we do because touching a potentially contaminated food without proper hand washing afterwards can lead to cross contamination.
(2) Clean all surfaces!
Many of us remember to use a clean cutting board or knife to begin the meal but do we clean between raw, ready to eat, and other foods, like deli meat or cheese?
Cross contamination can happen quickly when surfaces or utensils are not kept separate.
(3) Careful what you touch!
Did we touch the refrigerator handle, sink faucet, drawer knob, or other surface in the kitchen after touching a potentially contaminated food, such as the egg shell?
Most people don’t think about washing hands after cracking the eggs into the bowl and then touch everything in the kitchen, possibly contaminating surfaces and unknowingly spreading pathogens such as Salmonella.
(4) Keep foods separate!
Use different cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, ready to eat foods that will not be heated such as salads and produce, bread and other foods. This will prevent any confusion that could lead to cross contamination.
Different colors, shapes, or even materials for cutting boards will help keep foods separate.
(5) Thaw food properly!
Don’t thaw frozen food on the counter. Plan ahead to thaw foods in the refrigerator on the correct shelf and in a container that will prevent drips of raw juices on ready-to-eat foods.
We can thaw under cool running water in the sink, keeping the temperature from dropping into the danger zone. We can also thaw in the microwave and then cook immediately.
Some foods can be cooked from their frozen state, allowing extra time for the correct internal temperature to be reached.
(6) Use a food thermometer!
Cooking thoroughly to the proper internal temperature will help destroy any pathogens present in the food.
(7) Maintain the correct temperature during food preparation and storage!
Wait to pull out ingredients from the refrigerator that we plan to prepare. Only remove when we are ready to use it.
Time and temperature abuse leads to the growth of food pathogens. Hold foods at the correct temperature (hot or cold) during serving. If it will be held for 2 hours, reheat/use heat source or place on ice to maintain the temperature as it sits on the buffet table. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of preparation.
It is a good idea to keep a thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer to ensure food is stored at the correct temperature too.
Resources for Food Safety in Your Kitchen
Detective Foodsafe has prepared several resources that you can download for free to help you practice safe food handling at home.
- Temperature Danger Zone – which temperature increases the growth of foodborne pathogens
- Egg Storage Chart – safe food handling of eggs in any form
- Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures – safe internal temperatures chart
- Storing Produce Safely – safe refrigerator storage tips for fruits and vegetables
- Where to Store Produce Safely – tips to decide if counter, refrigerator or pantry is best for your fresh produce
- Freezing Produce – safe storage of fruits and vegetables when freezing
With a handful of food safety basic steps in the kitchen can we keep ourselves and our families from becoming victims of food poisoning at our hands.