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Safe Food Handling Practices – 10 Simple Tips for Cooking At Home

Many times you and family do not feel well, because you’ve eaten food that was handled or prepared in an unsafe manner. This can be avoided when preparing food at home, by keeping the following in mind during food preparation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the single most vital thing you can do to prevent getting sick is “WASH YOUR HANDS.” Clean hands, as well as clean cooking utensils and surfaces are your first defense against food-borne illness. Like washing your hands, most of the things you can do to help prevent a food-borne illness are really simple.

Here are 10 simple food safety tips, that together spell
F-O-O-D S-A-F-E-T-Y.

Fight bacteria by washing your hands often. Wash for about 20) seconds (sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice) with hot, soapy water BEFORE fixing or eating foods and AFTER using the bathroom, changing diapers, handling pets, gardening, coughing or blowing your nose.

Only thaw perishable food in the refrigerator or the microwave. Never defrost food on the kitchen counter. Cook food immediately after thawing in a microwave.

Order perishable hot takeout foods so they’re delivered shortly before serving. Whether takeout or prepared at home, avoid letting foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, cut and/or peeled fruits and vegetables sit at room temperature longer than two hours.

Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers for rapid cooling in the refrigerator.

Set your refrigerator to run at 40 F and your freezer at 0 F to help stop harmful bacteria from growing. Keep an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator/freezer to monitor temperatures.

Avoid cross-contamination. Wash cutting boards, knives and other utensils in the dishwasher or with hot soapy water and rinse with hot water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood, and before using them for another item. Avoid placing cooked food on a plate that held these raw foods. Multiple, colored cutting boards can help keep food types separate, to avoid cross contamination.

Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly cleaned before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running tap water just before eating. There are also special fruit and vegetable washes that can be bought at health and grocery stores. Wash fruits and vegetables that you peel or cut, such as melons, oranges or cucumbers. Bacteria adhere to the surface of these and can be transferred to the part you eat when it is cut or peeled.

Eat foods that you know are safe. Most of the bacteria that commonly cause food-borne illness can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. When in doubt, toss it out!

Take the temperature of perishable foods such as meat, poultry and seafood to assure harmful bacteria are ruined. Cook hamburger and other ground meats (veal, lamb, and pork) to an internal temperature of 160 F and ground poultry to 165 F. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145 F for medium rare and to 160 F for medium. Whole poultry should be cooked to 180 F as measured in the thigh; breast meat to 170 F. All cuts of pork should reach 160 F. Thoroughly cook fish until it is opaque and flakes with a fork.

Yolks and whites of eggs should be cooked until firm to avoid possible food-borne illness from salmonella. Store fresh eggs in their original carton and use within three weeks for best quality. Use hard-cooked eggs within one week — do NOT return them to the egg carton for storage. Refrigerate them in a clean container.

Due to food quality and special preparation methods in restaurants and homes, some of these rules may not be adhered. Your favorite Caesar salad dressing may contain raw egg yolks, and a restaurant chef may recommend your pork chop be cooked to only 145 degrees. Usually your food server or menu will warn you about such items, so you can make an informed choice regarding your food choices. These items will probably not hurt you, but children are more susceptible to illness because they do not yet have the enzymes to fight some bacteria, thus your choices for them should be more cautious. If you are concerned about a certain food or food preparation method, avoid those items.

Lisa Barnes is the owner of Petit Appetit, a cooking service devoted to the health and palates of babies and toddlers. She is the author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook (Penguin, March 2005) and a certified safe food handler. For more information and to sign up for a free newsletter, visit petitappetit.com petitappetit.com



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