I love having a start to a new year. We’ve made it through the hustle and bustle of the holidays, finding the perfect gift for family and friends. For me, the new year is a time to do something healthy for my family and myself. That may mean cooking healthier meals, exercising, or taking time to relax.
It may also mean learning a new skill or honing one I think I already have. I like to learn. As we head back into the kitchen to do our everyday cooking, I would like to share with you some things I have learned that help keep food safe.
Use a thermometer.
Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs can carry germs that cause foodborne illnesses. Bacteria is the main culprit here. Use a food thermometer to ensure these foods have been cooked to a safe internal temperature. Roasts, chops, steaks, and fresh ham should rest for 3 minutes after you remove them from the oven or grill.
- Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. You can always cook it to a higher temperature for your personal taste preference.
Two hours max at room temperature.
We call the temperatures between 40- and 140-degrees F, the temperature danger zone. Bacteria can grow on food, and it grows best within that temperature range. When we keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, we don’t allow the bacteria to multiply. Refrigerate or freeze any perishable food within 2 hours of taking it off heat or out of the fridge. The temperature in your refrigerator should be set at or below 40°F and the freezer at or below 0°F.
If you are leaving snacks or food out for grazing, nestle the cold food in bowls on top of ice. And keep the crock pot plugged in on warm.
Bake cookie dough.
I know, cookie dough is a delicacy, but it is one that can potentially cause you some time in the bathroom or the hospital. Both raw flour and eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E. coli or Salmonella. Just tasting raw dough can be enough to make you sick. Some companies or stores offer edible cookie dough, by using heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs or no eggs. Read the label carefully to know if purchased cookie dough may be eaten.
On the topic of eggs, use pasteurized eggs in dishes that receive little or no cooking. Some fun favorites that may contain raw or barely cooked eggs include eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce, and Caesar dressing.
Thaw large raw meats safely.
Avoid thawing food on the counter! When the center of the food is still frozen, the outside of the food can reach the temperature danger zone. There are several ways to thaw large amounts of food. In the fridge and as part of the cooking process are the two easiest. For fridge thawing, plan on at least 1 day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of frozen food. Even small amounts of frozen food – like a pound of hamburger – require a full day to thaw.
Keep raw foods away from ready to eat foods.
Keep raw foods, their packaging, or any liquid drips away from ready to eat foods. Remember to always clean anything they or the packaging touches, including counters, cutting boards, knives, and your hands.
Wash your hands.
Hands are the number one reason we get sick from eating food. Our hands touch so many things during a day. Be sure to wash your hands when starting to make food. Do you use your phone or a tablet for the recipe? Make sure you don’t touch it with raw meat juices and then touch something else. Do your kitchen counters get cluttered with non-kitchen items? Do you get interrupted by a phone call, a family member, or a pet? Remember to wash your hands every time you touch something that could potentially contaminate the food you are getting ready to feed your family. Be sure to wash all countertops where food is prepared. Kitchen counters are often used for a variety of things, so keep them clean also.
Enjoy this new year, do something good for your family and yourself, learn something new and keep food safe to eat.
By Carol Larvick, Extension Educator- Food & Nutrition, Nebraska Extension