September is National Food Safety Awareness month! Food safety is a topic that might get overlooked when it comes to cooking at home, as many people are comfortable in their own kitchens and use practices they may have learned while growing up. However, according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), one in six Americans may become sick, and over 120,000 people are hospitalized each year due to eating unsafe food.
Food safety starts with proper hygiene, and the CDC recommends that prior to prepping or eating food, you always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Additionally, to promote your overall health and safety, washing your hands is also suggested after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or using the restroom.
Although it’s great to feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen, it is always important to address the risk of food borne illness to ensure the use of safe food handling practices.
The CDC recommends four steps in properly handling food that include:
CLEANING: Making sure to wash your hands, cooking utensils, and work surfaces before preparing food.
SEPARATING: Ensuring raw meats and eggs are prepared away from fresh foods like fruits and vegetables to help prevent any cross contamination. This also includes using separate work surfaces.
COOKING: Cooking food to the correct internal temperature in order to eliminate bacteria that may make us sick. This can be easily accomplished with use of a food thermometer.
CHILLING: Chill food quickly to reduce time in the temperature danger zone of 135˚F to 41˚F. First, cool food from 135˚F to 70˚F within two hours. Then continue cooling it from 70˚F to 40˚F within the next two hours.
These steps can be especially important for those with compromised immune systems, as well as children, pregnant women, and people over age 65. Individuals within these categories often have a harder time fighting off infection, but through these practices, we may be able to avoid contamination and sickness.
Aside from prep and cooking, food safety applies in other areas too! The following are some ideas you might implement in your own kitchen.
-Store canned foods, in a cool, dry place where temperatures are steady, rather than a warm cabinet above the stove.
-Keep eggs on a shelf in the refrigerator instead of stored in the door, as the temperature stays more regulated there.
-When heating a packaged food in the microwave, allow the ‘standing time’ it may call for in the directions. This time is important for the food to finish cooking and heating through.
Following food safety guidelines for hygiene, prepping, cooking and storing may help us to more safely enjoy all of the food we love.