By: Sarah Limbert, RDN, LD
Pandemic or not, food safety should always be a part of our routine. However, in this time of constant handwashing and sanitation, the safety of our food is more important than ever. From the grocery store to the dinner table, here are four strategies to keep our food safe, from purchase to plate.
1. Cleaning produce is critical.
Cleaning fresh produce should be an essential step in your meal prep. Be sure to wash before chopping, even if the skin is not edible. Chopping unwashed produce may cause the knife to drag bacteria from the outer skin into the parts of the produce that will be eaten. For fruits and vegetables with firmer skins, you can even wash with a scrub brush (sure to use a different scrub brush than the one that is used when cleaning dishes). Some produce is marked “pre-washed.” In this instance, repeated washing is optional, not required. For completely clean produce, be sure to clean and sanitize all utensils and surfaces that will come into contact with the food. And as always, when handling produce or any other food, be sure to start with clean, washed hands.
2. How you store food matters.
A major source of foodborne illness is the growth of bacteria on raw foods, and the transfer of this bacteria to ready-to-eat foods. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, separate raw eggs, meat, poultry and seafood from all other foods. Be sure to keep these items separate in the grocery cart, shopping bags, and the refrigerator. Storing raw meats, poultry and seafood at the bottom of the refrigerator can help ensure that their juices don’t drip onto other foods, like fresh produce. It’s also important to be sure that these foods are stored in the main compartment of the fridge as the temperature in the refrigerator door can vary.
3. Get cooking, safely.
This is our favorite step! Cooking food to the correct temperature will ensure that your food does not contain high levels of bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. Follow this cooking temperature chart to determine the appropriate internal temperature for foods. When checking temperatures, be sure to place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
4. Chill out.
Keeping foods at the correct temperature is important to prevent the growth of bacteria after cooking. The first step is to be sure the refrigerator is consistently kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or below, and the freezer below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Prevent food from prolonged exposure to the ‘temperature danger zone’ of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. This range of temperatures is where bacteria multiply the fastest. Make sure food returns to the correct temperature for storage (less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) within 2 hours of cooking. A special note for areas that experience high temperatures: be sure to refrigerate foods within 1 hour of being in temperatures 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Got leftovers? Check out this cold food storage chart from the CDC to use as a guide for safe leftover storage and use.
Food safety is important all the time. However, as we are more focused than ever on staying healthy and well, it’s a key time to ensure that you’re doing all you can to avoid foodborne illness. Paying attention to food hygiene, times and temperatures will help keep your food fresh, safe, and delicious for as long as possible.