Four Steps for Food Safety

Aug 10, 2017

Safety in KnowledgeJanealYancey

By Contributing Author: Janeal Yancey, Ph.D., University of Arkansas

Everyone involved with food is responsible for its safety including the farmer/rancher, the processor, the grocery store or restaurant, and the consumer. In the US, we have the safest food supply in the world, and we, as consumers, are partially responsible for that. Yay, US!

The US Department of Agriculture launched a neat campaign earlier this summer called Be Food Safe.

It all boils down to using 4 simple steps to store and prepare food safely. They also created funny little videos about each step.

1. Clean.

a. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before you start to cook and after you touch raw meat or eggs.

b. Wash all cutting boards, utensils, and anything else that touched the food with hot, soapy water after you are finished with them, or run them through the dish washer. Wiping them down with a dish rag doesn’t get them clean.

c. Wash you counter tops with hot, soapy water.

2. Separate.

a. Keep raw meats away from foods you will eat without cooking, like fresh fruits.

b. This means keeping raw meats away from fresh foods in the grocery cart and in your shopping bags. If you like to use those nifty and environmentally responsible reusable shopping bags, good for you, BUT use a disposable bag for raw meat and poultry. Mother Earth will forgive you and she will be thankful that you are not sick. You don’t want to take the chance of meat juice leaking into the reusable bag and it contaminating fresh vegetables on your next trip to the grocery store.

c. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another one for fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, cheese, or anything else you will eat without cooking it. In many restaurants, the cutting boards are even different colors. Raw meat is always cut on red, seafood on blue, and vegetables on green, for example.

d. When you store raw meat at home, make sure it is kept away from ready-to-eat foods. It is best to store raw meats on the bottom shelf and keep a pan under it to catch any juices that may seep off.

3. Cook.

a. Use a food thermometer. Over 80% of American’s don’t use a thermometer when cooking ground beef or hamburgers. Ahhhhh!!! They are cheap (food thermometers, not the Americans that don’t use them) and available at your local grocery store. When you use it, make sure you stick it in the center of your food (that’s where it will be the coldest).

i. Anything made from ground beef, ground pork or poultry HAS to be temped before you remove it from the heat. That includes meat loaf, hamburgers, and sausage patties. Ground beef and ground pork should be cooked to 160°F (71°C) and all poultry should be cooked to 165°F (77°C). Some people thing they can tell if meat is done by looking at the color. Wrong! Meat color and they way it reacts to heat is dependent on lots of things. Too many to trust color for determining if it’s ready to eat.

ii. Whole muscle meats (steaks, roasts, and fish) have lower cooking temperature requirements because the bacteria are only on the outside of the food, while in ground meat, the bacteria could be all through it.

iii. (Side note, using a food thermometer also keeps you from overcooking your burgers and making them tough and dry. Bonus!)

b. When you microwave something, make sure you stir it, and if you don’t have a rotating plate in your microwave, rotate the dish yourself. Microwaves don’t always cook food evenly, so you have to help it out.

c. When you reheat a sauce, soup or gravy, be sure to bring it to a boil. These foods can be dangerous because they go from hot to cold and back to hot again. They have to make two or more trips through the Danger Zone of temperature between 40 and 140°F.

4. Chill.

a. Your refrigerator should be kept at 40°F or below. I keep ours just above freezing. I know it costs more on the electric bill (my husband pays it anyway), but a few dollars are worth it in the peace of mind of keeping us healthy and our foods last longer. The colder your fridge, the faster it will get foods chilled.

b. Get things in the fridge quickly. Don’t let leftovers set out all night. They will cool and be in the Danger Zone. Try to have them in the fridge in less than 2 hours. Also, store leftovers in shallow dishes so they will chill faster.

c. Keep in mind that you need to thaw meat in the fridge, too. See my post on proper thawing.

Dr. Yancey is a mom of two fabulous little girls and an advocate of the meat industry. She has a passion for providing education and information to anyone who has questions, follow her blogs to stay informed!

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