Summertime Food Safety
You know the basics: avoid cross contamination (especially juice from thawed meat), wash your hands, keep cold foods cold, keep hot foods hot and cook meats thoroughly. But overlooking the details may put you or your family and friends in danger. The USDA reports that one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year alone. Foodborne illnesses increase during the summer for two reasons. Bacteria grow faster in warm, moist conditions, and people move their cooking activities from the relatively controlled kitchen environment into the outdoors, sometimes just to the backyard, sometimes miles away from home. Let’s take a look at some important precautions.
- Farmers are working hard to bring clean, safe produce to their consumers, but the responsibility transfers to the consumers after purchase. Watch the short video, Fresh Produce Safety Tips from The Produce Lady, for tips on selecting and transporting fresh produce from the farmers market.
- The best way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator, second best (for sealed meat only) is in a pan of COLD water. Microwave defrosting is fine too, as long as you immediately cook the meat after defrosting.
- Marinate meat in the refrigerator. If you plan to use the marinade on cooked meat or grilled veggies, reserve some PRIOR to marinating the meat.
- If there is no source of safe drinking water at your cooking site (camping or boating, for example), bring sufficient water for food preparation and cleaning. Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths for cleaning hands and surfaces.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling food, after using the restroom and after touching an animal (including your pet). If possible, use hot, soapy water and scrub well. In a pinch, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).
- Don’t use the same platter or utensils for raw and cooked meat. In other words, the fork that’s been flipping the burgers should not make its way to the serving table. Have plenty of clean utensils for eating and serving.
- Avoid the Danger Zone – temperatures between 40°F and 140°F – by keeping cold foods in a shallow dish on ice or in the refrigerator, and keeping hot foods above 140°F. Use an insulated cooler to transport food and always keep a thermometer in the cooler. Limit time in the Danger Zone to one hour when the temperature is above 90°F; or two hours when the temperature is below 90°F.
- Try to prepare only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. By the time folks eat, return for seconds, socialize and then start to clean up, the time in the danger zone may have easily increased. Discard leftovers that have not been maintained at the proper cool or cooked temperatures. Remember, if in doubt, throw it out.