By Joyce L. Hornick
Would you get food from a salad bar that didn’t have a sneeze guard? How about eat at a restaurant that didn’t clean their dishware properly? Or at a place that served week old food? Yuk! Definitely not! Luckily, laws are in place preventing the above scenarios from happening, but do you follow the basic rules of food safety at home?
The FDA, USDA, and the CDC all work together to ensure our commercial food supply is safe. State and local governments have standards for food safety that restaurants, food manufacturers, grocery stores, and other food-related commercial establishments are required to follow. Many jurisdictions require restaurants to have food service employees trained via the ServSafe® method and take an exam to be certified. The system isn’t perfect. Foodborne illnesses still occur, but the US has one of the safest food supply systems in the world. At home, we can continue with safe food handling practices to keep our food safe. We have many resources about food safety at our fingertips. Web sites such as foodsafety.gov, fightbac.org, cdc.gov, and fda.gov all have a lot of useful information.
The five most common risk factors that cause foodborne illnesses as reported by the CDC are:
- Purchasing food from unsafe sources.
- Failing to cook food adequately.
- Holding food at incorrect temperatures.
- Using contaminated equipment.
- Poor personal hygiene.
These risk factors have been identified, with protocols in place, to help minimize foodborne illnesses within our commercial food supply.
With all of this information available, what are the most important things you can do as a consumer to keep your food safe at home?
- Only buy perishable foods from grocery markets you trust. Look at the packaging of meats and poultry to make sure it is sealed properly and the meat looks fresh. Check the sell buy date to make sure it isn’t expired. Try to buy meat and other perishables last while at the grocery store and put them in the refrigerator first once you get home.
- Always make sure food is cooked to the proper temperature. It’s the best way to lower your risk from bacterial contamination. An instant read thermometer is a must for every kitchen. For a quick list of proper cooking temperatures, look at or print out this chart.
- Put leftovers in the refrigerator right after finishing your meal. Put the food in shallow containers with a loose fitting lid to allow heat to escape. Seal tightly once they have cooled. Don’t let leftovers sit out on the counter to cool off.
- One of the easiest ways to prevent cross-contamination of foods is to have different cutting boards for different tasks. Always clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after using for one task before using for another. Thoroughly clean work surfaces after working with raw meat, poultry, and fish. Never put cooked food on a plate that had raw meat on it.
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Mom knows best on this one! This is the easiest way to prevent cross-contamination, reduce the spreading of bacteria and viruses, and is just good hygiene!
Food service establishments are required to follow these guidelines to keep their food safe. Following these guidelines will help make your home “restaurant” kitchen safe as well. As we head straight into the holiday season, think about the large number of people you may be cooking for and make sure your kitchen and your food is safe for everyone.