Why is it that restaurants must adhere to stringent requirements when it comes to food safety issues, but we neglect to follow the same guidelines when it comes to our own kitchens? We spend more time cooking in our homes than eating out, so doesn’t it make sense to be even more meticulous in our own homes? Here are some tips for preventing food poisoning when cooking at home.
All meats, including fish, seafood, poultry, and red meat, should be thawed in the refrigerator. As meat thaws, the outer portion comes to room temperature far earlier than the interior. It may take several hours for a piece of meat to thaw out entirely. During that time, bacteria can grow exponentially on the parts of the meat that are at room temperature.
If the meat is thawed in the refrigerator, the outside of the meat only gets as warm as the cold fridge temperature. This prevents bacteria from growing as the meat is thawed. Thawing meat in the refrigerator can take at least 24 hours, however, depending on the size of the piece of meat. Make sure you allow enough defrosting time when planning your meals.
All food should be cooked thoroughly. Different meats have different temperatures to which they should be cooked to kill any potentially dangerous bacteria. A simple kitchen thermometer is an inexpensive tool to have on hand, and it could make all the difference when it comes to your health. Below are the temperatures at which the USDA suggests you cook your meat:
- Beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks or chops (not ground)– 145 degrees Fahrenheit
- Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Poultry – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
Washing Food (and your Hands)
Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. A small study conducted a few years ago found that just about 40 percent of pre-packaged, pre-washed salad greens contained potentially harmful bacteria. Even if you buy prewashed salad greens, rinse them and dry them in your salad spinner. Fruits and vegetables may be covered in chemicals or bacteria, either from pesticides or people’s hands, so a good rinse under cold, running water or dousing with Veggie Wash and rinsing can help you stay healthy.
When it comes to rinsing off chicken, many recipes suggest that you do so, but the USDA suggests that it does not make a difference. However, you should always wash your hands—before beginning to cook, after touching raw meat, after you finish cooking, and before you eat.
When you have to refrigerate leftovers, how soon should you chill them? If you’ve cooked a hot meal, putting it in the refrigerator right away can cause steam to heat up the other food in your fridge. On the other hand, leaving warm food out too long can cause bacteria to grow, making it unsafe to eat even if you do refrigerate it.
After you cook a meal that you plan to refrigerate immediately, let it sit out uncovered for less than two hours. This will let it cool down enough so it won’t heat up your fridge, but it won’t sit out long enough for dangerous bacteria to proliferate. With any food that you plan to save and eat again, remember the two-hour rule: If it’s not chilled within two hours, throw it away. If you are busy doing other things, set a timer so you don’t forget to put the food in the fridge. It’s hard to feel like you’re wasting food, but it’s even harder to deal with the symptoms of food poisoning later.
To avoid getting sick from food in your own kitchen, remember to keep your food very cold or cook it through completely; don’t let it lurk at a lukewarm temperature for too long. Lettuce should stay in the refrigerator until you’re ready to toss your salad. Meat should not be thawed at room temperature. If you do a lot of entertaining, consider keeping an extra refrigerator in your garage so you can prepare meals and appetizers early and keep them cold until the company comes. You do so much to keep your family healthy; be sure to carry that care into the kitchen to help ward off unwanted illness.