We’re all well accustomed to the famous “Taco Tuesday” where Americans everywhere celebrate this delicious, spicy meal weekly, but did you know that tacos also have a holiday? And that holiday is today? Happy Taco Day!
This culinary fiesta is well loved and popularly consumed, making it reasonably understandable why it has its own designated day per year with an original, spiffy website, but before you get carried away crunching down on this Mexican delight, let’s check out the facts and food safety.
Let’s be honest: most of us have little to no idea when or how tacos came to be such a prominent part of American diets. We only really understand that tacos are absolutely delicious and we’d like to eat about ten more of them. Not altogether so different from others of our favorite food items, such as pizza, Americans absolutely love tacos, ranking them in among our top beloved fast foods. They’re good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, but where did they come from and how did they become so popular?
Obviously the original taco began in Mexico – though there is an argument that perhaps they were first constructed farther south – and was an utter revelation: a small, pliable corn tortilla enhanced with fresh salsa and served with a cochinita pibil (achiote-scented pulled pork), al carbon (charcoal grilled skirt steak), or fish. Tacos predate the arrivals of europeans in Mexico, with the first known documentation enjoyed by Europeans being documented by Del Castillo during the Spanish conquistadors.
While there is a bit of controversy around the origins of the word “taco,” many have suggested it to have been the word ataco, which translates to the word stuff, or to stuff, while others claim that it is directly derived from the Nahuatl word, ac, which translates to flat. Still others, such as Jeffrey M. Pilcher, a history professor who has dedicated over two decades to the study of tacos, believe that tacos were named after hand-rolled paper and gunpowder explosives, most generally used by miners to break rock faces, as the word taco is Spanish for plug.
No matter the actual origin, however, tacos made their impact on Americans and haven’t lost their momentum. With Glen Bell opening up the very first Taco Bell restaurant back in 1962, going public with his franchise in 1970, tacos have seemingly only become more popular and more loved in America. Whether you like soft tacos, hard tacos, spicy tacos, or mild tacos, there is seemingly an option for everyone so that no one is left out of this delicious experience.
Taco Fun Facts
Even understanding a little bit of the history of tacos leaves out a lot of interesting facts about them! Check out the following list for some new discoveries!
- Last year, Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos, which is well over 490,000 miles of tacos, a distance that stretches to the moon and back. Additionally, it is 775 million pounds, which is equal to the weight of two fully sized Empire State Buildings.
- Tacos were discovered to be the food of choice by the indigenous people in the Valley of Mexico.
- Taco Bell first started as Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in San Bernardino, California, way back in 1950, by Glen W. Bell. It originated as a hamburger stand, selling fast foods like burgers, hot dogs, fries, and shakes, later intelligently taking advantage of being located near the Hispanic neighborhood by selling crispy, hard-shelled tacos for 19 cents.
- Taco Bell uses 600,000 cows’ worth of beef every year, serving an average of 295 million pounds of ground beef annually.
- Half of the United States populations eats Taco Bell at least once per month.
- The birthplace of fish tacos is thought to be Ensenada, Mexico.
- Taco shop in Spanish is a “taqueria,” which was originally a word used to describe street vendors. Today, it has become a word used to describe places that serve authentic Mexican food.
- One of the first taco trucks is believed to have begun in New York. In 1966, two New York housewives began an early version of the taco truck, and although it was lacking a full kitchen, it was fully available for catering!
- The world’s largest taco was made in 2011, resulting in a 246-foot-long taco.
Food Safety and Tacos
It’s important to understand what foods are easily contaminated and how to prevent food contamination issues. Tacos are often made up of a lot of ingredients that, if improperly handled, could result in some serious food safety risks such as foodborne illnesses. Consider the four principles of food safety – Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill – with all foods in all circumstances, but also be aware of the ingredients of tacos in particular.
Tacos are most generally made up of either a corn or flour tortilla, some kind of meat, some kind of salsa, lettuce, and cheese. While there are obviously endless variations of this, these ideas form the basic nuts and bolts of the taco structure. So consider the following safety tips:
- Cook all meat thoroughly. Since many tacos are made up of ground meat, chicken strips, or fish, there is a lot of opportunity for the spread of harmful bacteria. You should never consume meat raw, especially ground meat that carries bacteria all throughout and not just on the surface. Ground beef should be cooked until no part of it remains pink, and all poultry and fish should be cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Clean anything raw meat, poultry, or fish has touched with warm water and soap. Not only should you avoid eating these proteins raw, but you should also make sure to properly sanitize anything that has touched their juices in order to prevent cross contamination. Cutting boards, knives, utensils, counters, sinks, handles – anything that came into contact with raw meat, poultry, or fish should be sanitized in order to remove the bacteria.
- Properly store all ingredients. All dairy products, meats, and produce should be properly stored in the refrigerator when not in use. Cheeses, sour cream, shredded lettuce, ground meat, chicken fish – all of these ingredients should be stored under 40 degrees fahrenheit in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and food spoilage.
Tacos are delicious, but food poisoning is not. Enjoy your day, enjoy your tacos but don’t forget to follow smart food safety procedures to be sure you don’t end up sick on the other end of this holiday.
Happy Taco Day!
By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)