Government agencies inspect and monitor food products to make sure they comply with food safety standards. But you may be surprised to learn that not all the food that reaches our plates has been inspected for contaminants. Food can come from the family farm next door, big agricultural operations or remote regions around the globe. Every change of hands is an opportunity for bacteria, parasites and other organisms to get into our food. Follow these simple rules to keep your family out of harms way.
1. Know where your food comes from
Not all producers and grocers have good food production and handling practices. Make sure milk, juice, or cider has been pasteurized.
2. Wash your hands and your food
Wash hands before and after handling all food and if you are sick, give the task to someone else. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water that is deemed safe for drinking even if the producer says it has been pre-washed. Wash fruits and vegetables that have an inedible rind or skin that will be peeled. Also wash meat and poultry before cooking.
3. Keep perishable food cold
Put perishable food in the refrigerator as soon as you get home; never leave groceries out more than an hour after purchasing. If you leave food out at room temperature, the bacteria count doubles every 20 minutes. Your food should be stored in a clean refrigerator at 40deg F or below, or freezer at 0 degF or below. Thaw foods in the refrigerator and not at room temperature.
4. Don't cross contaminate
Keep juices from raw meat, poultry and seafood from coming into contact with produce and other foods. Pack raw meats and poultry separately in the grocery store. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and do not use them for anything else until they have been washed in soap and hot water. Don't transfer cooked meat back to a plate that once held raw meat.
5. Cook food thoroughly
Apply the minimum cooking temperature for beef, lamb and veal (145deg F); ground meats (165deg F); fresh pork and ham (160deg F) poultry (165deg F), eggs (till yolk is firm) and leftovers and casseroles (165deg F). Don't be fooled by the meat's color. Use an internal meat thermometer to be certain, and be sure to wash it before each new temperature check.
6. Report food-borne illness immediately
If you suspect that you got sick from something you ate, don't keep it to yourself. Report illness to the health department so that authorities can investigate the source. Heed to food recalls and alerts.