The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from consuming contaminated food every year. The holidays bring many traditions centered around food, from decorating cookies, building gingerbread houses, and the ceremonial holiday ham. With so many food-centered events coming up, it’s time to brush up on your food safety tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this season.
1. Clean your hands and surfaces
Food poisoning germs can survive in many places around your kitchen and spread easily. Wash your hands and surfaces before you start cooking with hot, soapy water. Hands should be washed for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food.
Don’t forget to rinse your fruits and vegetables under running water to clean them before eating or cooking with them! Even if you plan to peel your produce before eating it, it’s still important to rinse potential germs away first.
2. Separate raw and cooked food
Raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs can all spread germs to ready-to-eat food and your surfaces. Contain these germs by using separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw food.
While doing your grocery shopping, keep raw meat and their juices away from other foods. Many stores now have single-use bags you can wrap your meat in. Buy your cold foods last to limit the amount of time they aren’t refrigerated before you get home.
Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs should be kept separate from your other foods in the fridge, preferably on the bottom. By placing raw meat on the bottom shelf of your fridge, you eliminate the potential for drippage to other food items.
Produce that is perishable such as strawberries, lettuce, and mushrooms, should be kept in the refrigerator. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables should also be refrigerated. Keep these items in drawers or the top shelf of your fridge.
3. Cook to the correct temperature
Cooking to the correct temperature is the easiest way to eliminate germs that can make you sick. Use a food thermometer to ensure your food is thoroughly cooked.
Beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ground meat should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Poultry, leftovers, and casseroles should all be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Chill promptly
First, your refrigerator should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Perishable food should be refrigerated within two hours to avoid the “Danger Zone” for bacteria. When food is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria can multiply rapidly.
Know when to throw out uneaten leftovers with this helpful chart.
5. Thaw frozen food correctly
It is not safe to thaw frozen food on the counter because it will thaw unevenly and can lead to bacteria overgrowth in some areas of the thawed food. Instead, thaw your food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.
6. Too late? React fast
While most cases of food poisoning is mild, some can develop into severe illnesses that require hospitalization. If you or a loved one is experiencing an upset stomach, stomach cramps, fever, nausea, or any other symptoms, contact a doctor to determine if you should be medicated or need supportive care.