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Step-By-Step: Keeping Food Safe

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  • Written By: Katie Dorsch, RD, CSO, LDN
Step-By-Step: Keeping Food Safe

September is National Food Safety Education Month. Although many of us don’t think about it on a daily basis, preventing foodborne illness should be on your mind. Each year, according to the CDC, there are approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States. Of these, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 people die. The most common illnesses reported are Norovirus, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Luckily, there are several things you can do at home to help prevent foodborne illness from affecting you and your family.

As we’ve heard many times over the past several months, handwashing is one of the most important steps to preventing illness! This certainly applies when preventing foodborne illness too. Viruses and bacteria are not easily visible on our hands and can quickly spread to food if we don’t wash them! Remember to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before preparing food, after handling raw meat, or after touching anything dirty such as a trash can or soiled dishes.

Avoiding cross-contamination by separating foods is another way to prevent illness. Keeping raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs away from produce and other items will ensure they stay safe to eat. Using a separate cutting board for raw meats and vegetables is always a good idea. Never put cooked food onto a plate or surface that was previously used for raw food.

Cooking food properly is also an important step. Meat, poultry and fish need to reach a certain temperature in order to kill any bacteria. Having a thermometer is the only way to ensure food is properly cooked; color is not a reliable indicator. Use the following temperatures as a guide to ensure your food is done: chicken (165°F), ground meat (160°F), seafood (145°F), and beef, pork and ham (145°F).

Once food is cooked, ensure leftovers are chilled quickly to prevent growth of bacteria. Refrigerators should be set to keep food at 40°F or below. Ideally, leftovers should be chilled to 40°F within 2 hours; however, if temperatures are over 90°F, don’t leave food out for longer than an hour. Avoid placing too many hot foods in the refrigerator at once to help keep it cool.

All of the above can easily be remembered by four easy words: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, CHILL. And when in doubt, throw it out! Keep your family and friends safe and healthy by preventing foodborne illness.