Safeguarding Your Food
Every year, an estimated 7 million Americans suffer from cases
of foodborne illness. Some cases are violent and even result
in death. Of course this is commonly known as “food poisoning.”
The culprit is food that has dangerously high levels of bacteria
due to improper cooking or handling.
Food safety is usually taken for granted by the buying public but
everyone’s attention was recently directed to food poisoning
involving some meat that was undercooked. It was determined that
the problem never would have happened if the meat had been cooked
properly. E.Coli 0157.H7 is a potent virus, but it can be
completely destroyed when the meat is fully cooked.
It is important for consumers to take an all-around safety approach
to purchasing, storing and preparing both traditional and new meat
and poultry products. Ultimately, consumers and food handlers bear
the responsibility for keeping food safe once it leaves the store.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 85 percent
of foodborne illness cases could be avoided each year if consumers
would handle food properly. The most common foodborne illnesses
are caused by a combination of bacteria, naturally present in the
environment, and food handling mistakes. Ironically, these are
also the easiest types of foodborne illnesses to prevent. Proper
cooking or processing of raw meat and poultry kills bacteria that
can cause foodborne illness.
When you’re out, grocery shop last, take food straight home to the
refrigerator. And never leave food in a hot car! Don’t buy anything
you won’t use before the use-by date. Don’t buy food in poor
condition. Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch. Frozen
food should be rock-solid. Canned goods should be free of dents,
cracks or bulging lids which can indicate a serious food poisoning
The performance and maintenance of your refrigerator is of the
utmost importance. Check the temperature of your refrigerator with
an appliance thermometer. To keep bacteria in check, the refrigerator
should run at 40 degrees F; the freezer unit at 0 degrees F.
Generally, keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without
freezing your milk or lettuce.
When you prepare food, keep everything clean and thaw out any frozen
food you plan to prepare in your refrigerator. Take it out of the
freezer in advance and place it in the refrigerated section of your
refrigerator. Always wash your hands in hot soapy water before
preparing and handling any food as well as after you use the
bathroom, change diapers, handle pets, etc. Remember, too, that
bacteria can live in your kitchen towels, sponges and dish cloths.
Wash them often and replace the dish cloths and sponges you use
regularly every few weeks.
Be absolutely sure that you keep all raw meats, poultry and fish
and their juices away from other food. For instance, wash your
hands, your cutting board and knife in hot soapy water after
cutting up the chicken and before dicing salad ingredients. It is
best to use plastic cutting boards rather than wooden ones where
bacteria can hide in grooves. Don’t take your food out of the
freezer and leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw. This is
extremely dangerous since the bacteria can grow in the outer layers
of the food before the inside thaws. It is wise to do your
marinating in the refrigerator too.