You’ve just picked up some delicious ingredients from the grocery store and you’re ready to get cooking in the kitchen. Before you start prepping and cooking though, it’s critical to keep some important food safety practices in mind. As much as we all love eating and enjoying tasty home-cooked meals, no one wants to end up with a nasty case of food poisoning. Foodborne illnesses affect millions of people each year, hospitalizing over 100,000 Americans.
But the good news is that most of these illnesses are completely preventable by following some basic food handling tips. By properly storing foods, cooking meats to the right temperature, avoiding cross-contamination, washing hands and surfaces thoroughly, and keeping everything clean, you can ensure that you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. Food safety may not be the most glamorous topic, but it’s crucial to understand to keep your kitchen adventures positive and illness-free.
Handling Food Properly: Wash Your Hands!
If there’s one rule to follow in the kitchen, it’s to wash your hands. Proper hand washing is the best way to avoid contaminating food and prevent foodborne illness.
As soon as you enter the kitchen, head to the sink and wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Rinse and dry with a clean towel.
Wash your hands after handling raw meat, eggs, or seafood. Wash them after touching pets or handling waste, and of course, after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. It’s also a good idea to wash hands when switching between tasks, such as after chopping vegetables and before kneading dough.
For utensils and surfaces, wash cutting boards, knives, and counters with hot, soapy water after preparing raw meat. Rinse and sanitize them before moving on to other foods. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods like veggies.
\n\n### Keep Cold Foods Cold
Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keep the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Perishable food left at room temperature for more than two hours can become unsafe.
When hosting a party, set out small platters of food instead of huge servings that stay out for a long time. Keep platters of perishable food on ice or in the fridge until just before guests arrive. Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of serving.
By following good hygiene and keeping the kitchen clean, you’ll keep your friends and family safe and avoid getting sick from improperly handled food. Make hand washing and food safety a habit, and you’ll feel good knowing you’ve got things under control in the kitchen.
Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold
If there’s one rule to always follow in the kitchen, it’s to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Why? Because bacteria grow rapidly between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and no one wants a nasty bout of foodborne illness.
To keep hot food hot, use a slow cooker, chafing dish, or warming tray. For larger quantities, a steam table is ideal. Bacteria start multiplying quickly after food has been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, so avoid letting food sit out.
For cold items, keep ingredients refrigerated until ready to use. Have a cooler with ice packs ready for transporting cold goods, especially on hot days. Once served, keep perishables on ice to maintain a temperature of 40 F or below.
When reheating leftovers, make sure the food reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. Don’t reheat more than once, as this further increases the risk of contamination. It’s best to portion leftovers into shallow containers so they chill quickly in the fridge.
Cross-contamination is also a concern, so never reuse platters, utensils, and pans that held raw meat for ready-to-eat foods like salads. Wash everything thoroughly in hot, soapy water. And of course, wash your hands frequently when handling food, especially after touching raw proteins.
By following basic food safety guidelines, you’ll avoid turning your kitchen into an incubator for dangerous bacteria. Keep hot food steaming hot, cold food icy cold, wash up regularly, and never take chances when it comes to contamination. Your stomach will thank you!
Proper Cooking and Reheating Temperatures
Proper cooking and reheating temperatures are crucial for food safety in the kitchen. If food is not cooked to the proper internal temperature, harmful bacteria like Salmonella can survive and make you sick.
When cooking meat, poultry, and egg dishes, use a food thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches a safe level. The USDA recommends the following:
- Whole cuts of red meat (beef, pork, lamb): 145°F
- Ground meats (beef, pork, lamb): 160°F
- Poultry (chicken, turkey): 165°F
- Eggs: Cook until the whites and yolks are set. For scrambled eggs, the temperature should reach 160°F.
These temperatures apply to both stovetop cooking and the oven. Be sure to check that the thickest part of the meat reaches the proper temperature. It’s also a good idea to let the meat rest for 3 to 5 minutes before carving or serving, as the temperature will continue to rise a few degrees.
When reheating leftovers, use the stovetop or oven, not the microwave. The microwave can heat unevenly and leave “cold spots” where bacteria survive. On the stovetop or in the oven, leftovers should reach an internal temperature of 165°F. Bring soups, stews, and gravy to a rolling boil.
It’s always better safe than sorry when it comes to foodborne illness. Following proper cooking and reheating temperatures, in addition to good hygiene and avoiding cross-contamination, will help ensure you and your loved ones stay healthy and avoid getting sick from the food you eat. Be vigilant, check those temperatures with a food thermometer, and happy cooking!
Prevent Cross-Contamination in the Kitchen
When cooking in your kitchen, it’s critical to prevent cross-contamination between raw meats, eggs, and produce to avoid foodborne illness.
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which may contaminate your kitchen surfaces and utensils if precautions aren’t taken. These bacteria are killed when food is cooked to proper temperatures, but can spread to other foods that are eaten raw or lightly cooked if your kitchen isn’t properly sanitized.
To prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen, start with having separate cutting boards for raw meats and produce. Wash cutting boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water after cutting raw meat, especially before cutting vegetables or other produce. Use one side of the cutting board for raw meats and the other side for produce. Replace worn or deeply grooved cutting boards often.
Use separate utensils like knives, tongs, and spatulas for handling raw meat versus other foods. Wash utensils immediately after contact with raw meat. Don’t reuse marinades that contained raw meat, eggs or seafood.
Wipe up spills in your refrigerator right away and wash hands frequently. Raw meat juices can drip onto shelves and drawers, contaminating other foods. Clean your refrigerator regularly and check expiration or “use by” dates.
Thoroughly clean and sanitize countertops, stovetops and sinks after contact with raw meat. Use a disinfecting cleaner or a solution of bleach and water. Rinse and dry completely to remove all traces of raw meat residue before preparing other foods.
Following safe food handling practices like keeping raw meat separate from other foods, properly cleaning surfaces and utensils, cooking foods to proper temperatures, and chilling perishable foods can help ensure you and your family avoid a foodborne illness from harmful bacteria in your home kitchen. Be vigilant and when in doubt, throw it out!
So in the end, it’s up to you. Do you want to risk getting food poisoning or making your loved ones sick with improper food handling and storage? Following basic food safety guidelines like washing hands, separating raw and cooked foods, cooking to proper temperatures, refrigerating perishables promptly, and avoiding cross-contamination is entirely within your control.
Take a few extra minutes to do it right – your health and your family’s health depends on it. When it comes to home kitchens, you’re in charge of ensuring safety and hygiene. Make it a habit and help spread the word – foodborne illness is preventable if we all do our part. Safe food handling may not seem exciting but it’s one of the most important things we can do each and every day. You’ve got this! Now go forth and keep your kitchen clean.