10 Tips for Smart Food Preparation, Handling, and Storage

It’s summer. We’re barbequing and picnicking, entertaining and enjoying the nice weather and chances to be outdoors. It’s hot, too, and food may sit out on the counter, on a picnic table or in your car longer than it should. Keeping perishables properly refrigerated and stored helps limit opportunities for bacteria to form, but it’s only one of several steps you should be taking regularly to limit exposure, protect your food, and protect yourself, your family and guests from getting sick.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food, and there are at least a thousand reported outbreaks of potentially deadly Salmonella and E. coli infections annually. Overall, the CDC estimates that between 6 million and 33 million are affected by food-borne illnesses each year, resulting in at least 9,000 fatalities. The reason the numbers vary so much is that many cases are never reported as food-borne. Salmonella infections cause more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food, and $365 million in direct medical costs annually. That’s certainly food for thought.

Follow these tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning at home:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and dry them before handling food and after handling raw foods (meat, fish, eggs and vegetables), after touching the garbage pail, going to the toilet, blowing your nose, or touching animals (including pets).
  2. Wash worktops before and after preparing food, particularly after they’ve been touched by raw meat, including poultry, raw eggs, fish and vegetables. You don’t have to use anti-bacterial sprays. Hot soapy water is fine.
  3. Wash dishcloths and dish or hand towels regularly and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed.
  4. Use separate chopping boards for raw food and for ready-to-eat food. Raw foods can contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives. Less porous materials, like glass, are less likely to become contaminated than wood or plastic.
  5. It’s especially important to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these foods won’t be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get on to the foods won’t be killed.
  6. Always cover raw meat and store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it can’t touch other foods or drip on to them.
  7. Cook food thoroughly and check that it’s piping hot all the way through. Make sure poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are cooked until steaming hot, with no pink meat inside. Learn to use a meat thermometer to verify cooking temperature.
  8. Keep your fridge temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), and your freezer temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, preferably closer to zero. By keeping food cold, you stop germs that cause food poisoning from growing.
  9. If you have cooked food that you’re not going to eat straight away, cool it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge or freezer. Use any leftovers from the fridge within two days.

10.  Don’t eat food that’s past its “use by” date label. These are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful germs can develop in packaged food.

Tips for barbequing

When you’re cooking any kind of meat on a barbecue, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), pork, steak, burgers or sausages, make sure:

  • The coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they’re hot enough to ensure proper cooking.
  • Frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it.
  • You turn the meat regularly and move it around the barbecue to cook it evenly.

Remember that meat is safe to eat only when:

  • It is piping hot in the center.
  • There is no pink meat visible.
  • Any juices are clear.

Finally, it’s important to keep many kinds of food cool to prevent germs from multiplying. Make sure you keep the following cool:

  • Salads
  • Dips
  • Milk, cream, yogurt or other dairy products
  • Desserts and cream-based cakes
  • Sandwiches (especially when packed for travel, work or school)
  • Ham, turkey and other cooked meats
  • Cooked rice, pasta and soups

Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours, and don’t leave food in the sun. Food poisoning and contamination are serious threats to your health all-year round, but simple attention to these details can help ensure healthier eating and a happier summer.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!