Food safety should be one of the most important aspects of your kitchen cleaning and hygiene routine, yet many people don’t pay enough attention to it. There are some essential guidelines for keeping your family safe from food-borne illness – here’s a shortlist.
Refrigerator and Freezer Safety
Food storage is one of the most important aspects of safety in the kitchen. The refrigerator temperature should be kept between 32 degrees and 40 degrees F. Purchase a refrigerator thermometer from a kitchen supplies store to measure the temperature inside. If the fridge gets any warmer than that, it can cause germs and bacteria to multiply in the space of an hour.
Always keep foods sealed properly to avoid spillage. Meat should be kept in the coldest part of the fridge, typically in a drawer made specifically for that purpose.
When purchasing meat from the butcher, only keep it in the refrigerator for up to a few days. If you plan on using it any later than that, freeze it. When freezing meat, wrap it properly. In most cases you’ll need to remove it from store packaging, which has too much air. Instead, store it in a freezer bag with all the air squeezed out of it, and mark it with the date. Freeze items before they begin to spoil.
Thawing Food Safely
When thawing meat, it’s particularly important to follow some basic safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. It’s best to thaw meat in the fridge. This may take a day or two, especially for larger cuts of meat. For faster thawing, use a cold water bath method. Place the entire wrapped package into a sink of cold water. Change the water frequently, before it gets to room temperature.
If you like, you may use the microwave to thaw your foods. Use the proper defrost setting and turn the meat as directed. The meat should never begin to cook, boil or bubble in any way. As soon as the product is defrosted, remove it from the microwave and cook it. It’s never okay to thaw meat on the kitchen counter or you’ll wind up with bacteria breeding in it before it is entirely defrosted.
Preparation and Cooking
When preparing food, keep the counter area clean and dry. Bacterial breed quickly on a wet, contaminated surface, but have trouble surviving for long on a dry surface. Use a separate cutting board for meats and vegetables. Keep your cutting boards clean by washing them immediately after use with hot, soapy water. Also, wash your hands after touching raw meat. The USDA recommendation is to wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds after handling meat to remove any bacteria.
Never use the same knife to cut raw meat and other foods unless the knife has been washed in hot water. This eliminates cross-contamination. Rinse all produce before cooking or serving.
It is essential to cook food thoroughly to reduce the risk of bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check for the correct temperature while cooking. Chicken and other poultry should be 165 degrees, ground meats should be 155 degrees, and steaks and seafood should reach 145 degrees. You should heat leftovers and casseroles to a temperature of at least 165 degrees.
Storing and Freezing
When putting leftover food away, always allow it to cool slightly before putting them into the refrigerator; however, don’t let it come completely to room temperature. You’ll want to put it away in the fridge before any bacteria begin to grow. Properly cover or seal the leftovers to keep air from getting into them.
Finally, clean your sink and counter areas well each day after cooking, and replace the dish-sponge every week.