Safety first when preparing food

By: Ashley McRae - Contributing columnist

It is always alarming whenever we learn that one of our favorite snacks or meals has been removed from the shelves to be placed on recall due to the possible spread of bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration’s website contains a list of recalled foods showing, thus far in 2018, there have been numerous products that have been recalled due to the potential spread of foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses; this does not take into account the number of cases that go unreported. In providing these facts, I am challenging you to begin practicing food safety. You will find it truly does matter and could potentially save your life.

In the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program series, one of the many topics participants learn about is “fixing it safe” in the kitchen. The Fixing It Safe lesson outlines the four concepts of cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling. First, we have cleaning, which goes beyond spot mopping the kitchen floor or doing a brief wipe down of your countertops. When focusing on cleaning, consider the importance of proper handwashing before, during and after food preparation. Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water before handling the next foods. Moreover, be sure to sanitize all kitchen surfaces after cleaning. You can make your own sanitizer by combining a quarter teaspoon unscented chlorine bleach with two cups of warm water.

The next concept, separating, focuses on keeping boundaries between raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Separating foods is important, because it helps in preventing cross-contamination. Simple tasks, like using separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables or sanitizing between cutting meats and vegetables, aids in reducing the spread of foodborne illnesses. You can practice your separating skills whenever you grocery shop by keeping products separated in your shopping cart.

Now, let us examine how we can safely cook what we consume. When preparing meats, poultry, eggs, fish and shellfish, you want to be sure you are cooking them to a safe temperature. You can purchase food thermometers at various retail chains; thermometers range in price but are typically very affordable. As you are checking the temperature of your food, be sure to place your thermometer in the thickest parts of the meat to ensure thorough cooking (do this in several places for at least 10 to 15 seconds). Safe temperatures for meats are as follows:

— Fish, seafood, beef, and pork should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

— Ground beef should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

— Ground turkey and chicken should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

Once you have safely prepared your food, you may want to store what you have for a later meal — this is where chilling comes in. You should refrigerate or freeze foods quickly. Moreover, be mindful of how long your food has been sitting out; if it has been longer than two hours, discard promptly as you may run the risk of becoming ill. For any leftovers remaining to store, divide food into shallow containers for faster cooling in the refrigerator. In addition to showing how to store food, chilling also gives insight on thawing methods as well. When thawing foods, never place them on the counter; instead, use the bottom shelf of your refrigerator and use a plate to collect any juices. You could also utilize the microwave to defrost frozen foods or use cool water, making sure the water has been changed after 20 minutes.

The benefit of being safe in the kitchen is greater than the risk we take by not being careful. It takes minimal effort to prevent foodborne illnesses, along with dedication, and the will to make the change.


Ashley McRae

Contributing columnist

Ashley McRae is the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center. She can be reached at 910-671-3276 or at [email protected]

Ashley McRae is the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center. She can be reached at 910-671-3276 or at [email protected]