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4 Basic Food Safety Principles

Posted in Food Safety on August 29, 2019

We talk a lot about food safety principles. I see it linked a lot but how many of us actually go the extra step to read and consider these principles? I’m a firm believer if we all were to not only read but apply these principles in our day-to-day lives it would go a long way in keeping us safe. Stand back Salmonella!

I want us to break these Food Safety Principles down: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Talk about them more at length and help us all to commit these to memory so they become second nature. Not that I don’t think you all are already putting these into practice (you are right?), but a refresher might be in order. I do it too.

Clean

Washing our hands before, during, and after preparing meals is not the only aspect to this first topic. Cleaning surfaces and the tools we use to cook also falls under here. The other day I caught my wife using a dirty cutting board to cut up fruit for our little one. After some gentle explaining she threw that food out and started over – after washing the cutting board. Thankfully, she saw this as a teachable moment and not me nagging her about safety.

Taking the time to wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food reduces the chance of getting food poisoning or transferring bacteria from one food to another. It is recommended you spend no less than 20 seconds washing your hands with soap and warm water. If you want to dive into the deeper ins-and-outs behind the science, the CDC released a whole PDF on the subject. This 56-page guideline has a lot of information; make sure you have a few spare minutes to read it all.

One last piece of the food safety puzzle we forget about is to wash fruits and vegetables before use. Cooking will remove most if not all bacteria depending on the temperature you use; but, most of us eat fruits raw so washing them is necessary. It is a good practice to wash fruits and vegetables even if they are labeled as pre-washed.

Separate

I believe that if the first principle is done well, this one should fall into place. It is still an important part when it comes to food safety though. Cross-contamination is a serious danger. We can take every precaution and forget to wash one knife and spread bacteria without knowing.

Raw meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and some vegetables can already contain bacteria. Washing cutting boards and utensils used when preparing these can greatly reduce spreading it to other areas of your work surface and eventually into your body. The same rules to washing hands apply here: warm soapy water will wash away the bacteria.

Let me take this a step further. When shopping, get into the habit of placing your raw meat, poultry, and vegetables into a plastic bag provided. This will give an extra layer of protection until you get home and can separate them properly. When storing, use the same process and separate each one into different containers. Never store raw meats and vegetables in the same container.

Cook

Cooking is my secret obsession. I’m a stay at home dad and part of my job is to cook my family a meal for when my wife gets home from work. I think part of the reason I enjoy it so much is the creativity in making new dishes. Even though there is a lot of room for fun and creativity when cooking, there are also some very strict rules we need to be aware of: temperature control.

Cooking food to the correct internal temperature can kill bacteria, making it important to follow guidelines backed by years of research. The CDC has an entire chart we can look at and print off if you would like.

Grilling is another favorite pastime of mine. The same rules apply. One of the best tools you can have in your kitchen is a thermometer for checking internal temperatures. Trying to check if meats are done by looking at the color can not only be deceiving but dangerous. Color is NOT a good indicator.

Chill

“Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or the ‘Danger Zone’ between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees outside). (source) To begin with, make sure your refrigerator is below 40 degrees. Go check now, I’ll wait. Now that you have that out of the way, think about the above quote.

Washing, separating, and cooking food is not the complete picture. Once the feast is over, putting the leftover food away in a timely manner is a must. My wife would argue the opposite but that is because she despises leftovers and will not eat them. There are a few tips to remember here as well:

  • Discard any food left out over the allotted time
  • Put each food in a separate container
  • Use leftovers within 4 days
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees

Refrigerating your leftover food will not keep it from bacteria; it will slow down the growth though. This is why it is important to reheat leftovers correctly.

We read a lot about outbreaks, food poisoning, and other types of food safety issues. While some are out of our control, most are. Taking the time to properly prepare food can keep you and your family safe from bacteria. Food poisoning illnesses happen we forget one of the principles above. We all need to take more responsibility for our food safety.

On a personal note: remember folks, if you have the opportunity of a teachable moment, don’t miss it. This not only apply to family members but those we come into contact with every day. Spreading knowledge about these Food Safety Principles can save someone else from illness. Just remember to come to the moment with the heart of a helper, not one that knows everything. I wish I knew most of this information when I was younger.

Stay safe.

By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)