Safe Food Handling

                                                            By Judith Wakefield

Summer is here and many people enjoy picnics away from home and eating outside at their own homes.  Itís always important to keep food safety in mind.  We donít want to ruin a festive occasion with someone getting sick from the food you prepared.

You canít see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness.  In every step of food preparation, follow the four Fight BAC!  Guidelines to keep food safe:  Clean Ė Wash hands and surfaces often.  Separate Ė Donít cross-contaminate.  Cook Ė Cook to proper temperatures.  Chill-Refrigerate promptly.

When you are shopping for food purchase refrigerated or frozen items after selecting your non-perishables.  Never choose meat or poultry in packaging that is torn or leaking. Do not buy food past ďSell-By,Ē ďUse-By,Ē or other expiration dates.  Raw meat does contain bacteria,, cooking kills the bacteria.  If juices from raw meat drip onto foods that are not to be cooked they contaminate that food.  If itís produce for a salad, the food wonít be cooked to kill the bacteria.  Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them.  At check out put raw meat and poultry into separate plastic bags so meat juices will not run onto read-to-eat food or food that is eaten raw, such as vegetables or fruit.  Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store.  If you live farther away than 30 minutes or the weather is hot, you may want to take along a cooler with ice for the perishables.

Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees).  Harmful bacteria that cause food borne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.  They double every 20 minutes and can reach the level to make people sick.  Some people like children, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and those under treatment for other health problems are more susceptible than others to food poisoning.  Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer.  The refrigerator should keep food at forty degrees or below and the freezer at zero or below.

What foods are perishables?  All types of fresh raw meat, poultry, seafood, foods containing eggs or dairy products, and foods with low acid content like plain pasta, cooked dried beans, or rice.  Moist foods are more susceptible than dry foods.

Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within two days of  

Purchasing; other beef, veal, lamb or pork within three to five days.

Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food. To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer. The packaging fresh meat comes in is not intended for long-term freezer storage.

In general, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored on the shelf for 12 to 18 months. Low acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years Ė if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean, and dry place. High-acid foods eat away the inside of the cans, which is why acid foods donít keep as long as low acid foods. Discard any cans that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted.

Always wash your hands well before and after handling food. Donít cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife and countertops with hot, soapy water. Washing your hands isnít just letting water run over them. Would you want a doctor to do surgery on you if heíd just let some cool water run over his hands? I donít think so. Use warm water, and soap. Work the suds into your palms, back of hands, between fingers and around the fingernails for twenty seconds then rinse well and dry (it takes about twenty seconds to sing the alphabet song). Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator, not out on the counter. Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1-teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water. Let the solution set on the cutting board for two minutes before rinsing it off.

Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator. The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Slow thawing allows moisture from the ice crystals to be absorbed into the cells of the food and not drip out. Donít let juices from raw meat and poultry drip onto other food. For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge it in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing. If you thaw meat in the microwave, cook it immediately.

The safest way to cook meat is to use a meat thermometer and make sure the inside has reached a safe temperature. Cook ground meats to one hundred sixty degrees, ground poultry to one hundred sixty five degrees. Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to one hundred forty five degrees and all cuts of fresh pork should be cooked to one hundred sixty degrees. Whole poultry should reach one eighty degrees in the thigh, one hundred seventy degrees for breasts. If you are cooking outside on a grill, take the raw meat outside on a platter. Wash the platter with hot soapy water before you put the cooked meat back on the same platter. You donít want to contaminate the cooked meat with juices from raw meat.

Although it is tempting to leave food out after a picnic to let people ďgrazeĒ itís not a good idea. It can become dangerous. Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature was over 90 degrees). Foods like crackers, cookies, etc., of course are safe. A cake with whipped cream icing would not be safe.

When you are freezing leftovers place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling. Use cooked leftovers within four days.

Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

Keep in mind to Fight BAC! Guidelines to keep food and your family safe: Clean Ė Wash hands and surfaces often. Separate Ė donít cross-contaminate. Cook Ė Cook to proper temperatures. Chill Ė Refrigerate promptly. This way you can really enjoy summer picnics!