When preparing and cooking food, there are a few basic rules for making sure the food is safe to eat. All purchased foods have been handled by a number of people before it reaches your kitchen counter. Therefore, the contamination risks are much higher than if you grow and process the foods yourself.
That being said, contamination can come from anywhere, including the original grower. Raw meat can contain bacteria such as e-coli, salmonella and parasites. Proper handling and cooking is a must in every kitchen as it can prevent unnecessary illness.
The first step to keeping your family safe is to wash. Wash your hands, wash the food, both fruit and vegetables, and wash all surfaces that the food may touch. Washing hands and surfaces should be done often during meal preparation.
Separate the foods and juices to prevent cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables. Don’t place cooked food on the same platter that held raw food.
Foods must be cooked at the correct temperature. Ground beef, pork, veal and lamb must reach a temperature of 160 degrees. However, if they are cut into steaks, roasts or chops, the internal temperature only needs to reach 145 degrees. Turkey, chicken and pork need 160 degrees in any form. Even precooked pork needs to be brought to 140 degrees just to be safe.
Eggs need to be cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm (sorry over-easy lovers) and any egg dish must reach 160 degrees. Bringing leftovers and casseroles to 165 degrees will render them safe.
Be careful with raw foods. Seafood, for example, may contain toxins like Mercury when raw and can harm young children and unborn babies. Avoid raw bean sprouts. Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter, and if the marinade is to be applied to the food as it cooks, make a separate batch from that which held the raw food.
Lastly, refrigerate food quickly. Bacteria can double every 20 minutes at room temperature. The coldness in the refrigerator will stop this and proper cooking will destroy all bacteria. Milk and cheese must be cold and be sure it is pasteurized. Should you lose power, keep the refrigerator and the freeze closed. If you do this, food should stay safe in the refrigerator for about 4 hours and in the freezer for 2 days if it’s full, less if not. Dry ice can be purchased to put in these appliances for longer storage.
While important for everyone, special consideration should be given to pregnant women, older people and anyone with a chronic illness as the results of poisoning can be severe. Check for food recalls and other information at foodsafety.gov to be an aware and healthy cook.