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Five food safety tips to keep your family healthy

Preparing a salad in the kitchen

By Kirsten Larson, manager, Food Safety, APHL, and Robyn Randolph, senior specialist, Food Laboratory Accreditation, APHL

In this time of COVID-19, the ways in which we get and consume our food likely look much different from a year ago. Whether it is takeout, delivery, meal kits or homemade, meals at home are occurring much more frequently. Some of you might be using this time to brush up on your cooking skills, hoping to become a competitor on Chopped. But before you can become the next Chopped champion, it is important to know the basics of food safety–serving raw chicken to a judge (or a family member) can have serious consequences. Here are five food safety tips to help keep your meals safe:

  1. Keep your space clean

No one wants to eat food from a dirty kitchen. Make sure you are washing your hands before cooking, especially after handling raw meats, poultry or eggs, as these items can carry foodborne pathogens. Sanitize your cutting boards, utensils and countertops with a bleach solution or hot, soapy water to kill any bacteria that might be lingering. Wash your fruits and veggies with water, even before peeling as this can help rid them of bacteria-containing debris that might be lingering on the surface. However, you should not wash raw meats, poultry or eggs since potential pathogens can be aerosolized and spread around your kitchen.

  1. Separate food items

Like the Real Housewives on a reunion special, foods need to be kept separate for the safety of others. Cross-contamination is a huge source of foodborne illness, but it can be avoided by using different utensils and surfaces when preparing your meal. When making chicken fajitas, for example, you should use a dedicated cutting board for slicing your chicken and other raw meats and a different cutting board for slicing your peppers and onions. When grilling hamburgers, do not use the same plate to transfer the raw and cooked burger patties.

  1. Cook foods to the correct temperature

The food thermometer is a critical kitchen tool that will not only help prevent overcooked pork chops, it will ensure that you are cooking foods to a safe temperature. USDA provides guidance on the safe internal temperature for foods, including:

    • Steaks, chops and roasts (Beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish) – minimum 145°F (62°C)
    • Ground meats – 160°F (71°C)
    • Poultry – 165°F (73°C)

Be sure that you take the temperature of each food item you prepare. Reheat all leftovers to 165°F. Know your microwave’s wattage so that you can follow cooking instructions on frozen food items.

  1. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

“Hot” means 140°F (60°C) or warmer, while “cold” is 40°F (4.4°C) or colder. Do not keep food out for more than two hours at room temperature or for more than one hour above 90°F (32°C), as this will become a breeding ground for pathogens. If you are eating outside this summer, consider dishes that include no eggs or dairy to decrease the risk of foodborne illness.

  1. Store your food safely

Food safety is not just about how you prepare the meal, it’s also about how the food is stored. Be sure to cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish and ground meat within two days of purchase–other meats should be used within 3-5 days. Use cooked leftovers within four days or throw them away. Ensure meat and poultry packaging is not leaking, and keep thawing meat or poultry away from fresh foods like fruits or veggies in the refrigerator (on the bottom shelf to prevent drips).

Being a great cook is not just about making delicious food. A great cook avoids intestinal mayhem by ensuring that food is safe to consume. With these food safety tips, you will be ready to create a pathogen-free feast for your friends and family…when you’re ready to have folks over for dinner.


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