Okay, this is embarrassing, but here it goes: I did not learn how to scramble eggs until the age of 24. Yes, it’s true; I’m one of those very late bloomers when it comes to cooking. I used to joke, “I’ll learn when my survival depends on it,” and unfortunately, or fortunately, that time is now. Making my first salad was a success, seriously, then I moved to scrambled eggs and boiling pasta, and just yesterday I baked fish by myself for the first time. Slowly, but surely, almost a year after I started getting innovative with some spinach leafs, I’m on to actual cooking!
While learning how to cook can be a lot of fun, there is potential for harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans, roughly 48 million people, gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each year. According to findings from a national study conducted by the Partnership for Food Safety Education in 2007, food safety risks in the home are more common than people may think. In fact, less than 60 percent of respondents indicated that they correctly follow important safe food handling practices. Now, I’m not saying we should all get take-out every night (there are food safety concerns there also, but we can leave that for another time), I’m just saying that we should all be aware of the four core food safety practices: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
Here are some tips from the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Fight BAC! Campaign on how to practice safe food handling in your home:
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
- Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
- Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, and rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables while rinsing.
Separate: Don’t cross contaminate
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.
Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
- Use a food thermometer to ensure that your food is safely cooked to the appropriate internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria that causes illnesses. Refer to a temperature chart to determine what temperature your meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and leftovers should reach in order to be food safe.
- Remember, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly
- Refrigerate foods quickly to prevent growth of harmful bacteria.
- Keep a constant refrigerator temperature of 40°F or below and a freezer temperature of 0°F or below.
- Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than two hours before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer (one hour when the temperature is above 90°F).
- Never defrost food at room temperature. Three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling
- Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis. Check this Cold Storage Chart for optimum storage times.
And remember, “Don’t Get Sicky Wit It!” Enjoy this food safety music video from Dr. Carl Winter at the University of California, Davis:
By LAURA COELHO