The 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office reminds us that it’s the time of year for lazy days at the pool, complete with a picnic basket of goodies, or backyard cookouts with friends and family. If you’d rather not be remembered as the host who had to serve antacid cocktails a couple of hours after the hamburgers and hot dogs, then it’s also the right time to review a few safety basics.
Knowing how to prepare, handle and store food properly is important all year long, but soaring summer temperatures can kick food spoilage into high gear. Under normal circumstances, for example, the rule of thumb for safely allowing foods to remain at room temperature while the meal is being served and consumed is two hours. At temperatures above 90 degrees it’s only one hour. That’s why it’s important to know summer food safety rules and apply them properly.
Prevention is the key and here are a few safety tips to ensure your summer is a safe one.
Keep it clean.
Wash hands with soap and water often while you’re handling food, and do the same for any surfaces the food will come into contact with. On a picnic, take along paper towels and hand sanitizer or a spray bottle filled with soapy water to accomplish the task. Don’t forget to give fresh fruits and vegetables a bath, too. Do it just before you’re ready to use them, and don’t use soap. Just rinse them good under cold running water, scrubbing briskly with your hands or a soft brush, then dry well with paper towels. Even produce such as cantaloupe and watermelon — with a rind that you don’t intend to eat — need this same washing routine to prevent any harmful organisms from contaminating the fruit’s flesh when sliced open with a knife.
Separate so you don’t contaminate.
Always keep raw meat, poultry and seafood, and any of their leaking juices away from already cooked, ready-to-eat foods and fresh produce. Before handling other foods, use soap and water to wash hands, utensils and cutting boards that have come into contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood. Never put cooked meats back on the same plate that held them raw. Always use a clean plate. If raw meats, poultry or seafood must share space in the same cooler as other foods, carefully pack each of them in sealed, leak-proof containers.
Chill perishable foods promptly and thaw foods properly.
Food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat.
Nothing provides a better environment for the quick growth of nasty, illness-causing germs than the thawing of foods on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Thaw foods in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each five pounds of frozen food to be thawed. For quick thawing, submerge foods wrapped in airtight packaging in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Thaw foods in the microwave only if you’ll be cooking them immediately.
When cooling cooked foods, chill as quickly as possible. Use shallow pans and place ice or in the freezer to bring the temperature down quicker before putting into the refrigerator. Cold refrigerated perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in a well insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water.
If you don’t plan to eat take-out foods within two hours of purchase, plan ahead and chill food in your refrigerator before packing for your outing.
Cook to proper temperatures.
Use a clean food thermometer that measures the internal temperature of cooked foods. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that one out of every four hamburgers turns brown in the center before it reaches a safe internal temperature. If you’re a fan of rare hamburgers, be aware that you are taking a calculated risk every time you eat one. Cook meat, poultry and fish to safe internal temperatures to kill microorganisms. See the chart for the safe internal temperature for steaks, roasts, poultry, ground meats and egg dishes.
These simple steps will greatly reduce the chances of you or your guests suffering food borne related illnesses. Remember clean, separate, cook and chill. Finally, when in doubt, throw it out.