Most cases of foodborne illness can be averted. As such, it is important to accumulate food safety knowledge and implement commonsense practices to in order to prevent contraction of what can be a dangerous illness.

Foodborne disease, or food poisoning, is a major public health concern both in and outside of the United States. Public health scares, such as the Chipotle restaurant outbreaks, have incentivized public and private stakeholders to revamp any and all efforts pertaining to foodborne illnesses.

One organization created as a result of American’s concerns over foodborne illness is FoodSafety.gov, a federal website that provides food safety information to the public.

According to the Food Safety Working Group,

“The federal government will enhance http://www.foodsafety.gov to better communicate information to the public and include an improved individual alert system allowing consumers to receive food safety information, such as notification of recalls. Agencies will also use social media to expand public communications.”

One of the resources included on the FoodSafety.gov website is “4 Simple Steps to Food Safety,” a straightforward guide intended to educate the public on cleaning, separating, cooking and storing food items. What follows is an overview of the information included in the resource, and details about each one of the four steps.

Step 1. Clean

washed peppersThe step of cleaning hands, surfaces and utensils is important, as this can prevent the spread of bacteria. Bacteria are one of the leading causes of foodborne illness, including food poisoning. Further, bacteria can survive and spread throughout multiple areas of the kitchen, increasing the likelihood that food becomes contaminated. Food may become contaminated with bacteria during any point of the food cycle, up to consumption.

Cleaning areas around the kitchen in addition to cleaning one’s hands is important to reducing the probability of foodborne illness. The instructions for “Cleaning” outlined on the foodsafety.gov website are relatively simple and straightforward.

For example, surfaces and utensils should be washed after each use. Kitchen surfaces and spilled food should be cleaned up with clean cloths, paper towels, or wash cloths. Hands should be washed for a minimum of twenty seconds with running water and soap. The process involves running either cold or hot water and applying soap, rubbing and scrubbing the soap on the hands, rinsing the hands with running water, and drying them.

Foodsafety.gov strongly recommends washing fruits and vegetables prior to peeling or cutting them. However, meat, eggs and poultry should not be washed, as the process can further spread bacteria.

Step 2: Separate

After hands and surfaces have been cleaned, raw foods — such as meat, eggs, poultry and seafood — should be kept separate, as bacteria in any of these foods can cross-contaminate other items and surfaces. It is recommended that food preparation materials, including cutting boards and plates, be used separately for each food type. Cooked foods coming into contact with preparation surfaces that contain previously-raw eggs, meat, poultry and seafood can spread bacteria and cause illness.

Another recommendation is to keep the above-mentioned foods separate while gathering the items at the grocery store. It is necessary to separate the items from one another in in the grocery cart, for example. Additionally, when you refrigerate the items, raw meat, eggs, poultry and seafood should be held in separate areas until they are ready to be cooked.

Step 3: Cook

cooked foodApplying heat until food reaches the appropriate temperature is crucial to preventing foodborne illness. Most types of bacteria are eradicated by heat, providing that the correct temperature for cooking is chosen. Foods that are at temperatures within the range of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit are vulnerable to bacterial contamination.

An accurate way be assured that cooked food is at a safe temperature for consumption is to use a food thermometer. Referencing provided instructions, the device should be inserted into the densest part of the food for accurate measurement. Once this has been completed, the temperature indicated on the device should be compared to the recommended minimum temperature of the food.

As mentioned, necessary cooking temperatures are critical for killing bacteria and preventing bacterial growth. As food chills, bacteria are more likely to develop; as a result, continuous application of heat after cooking can significantly reduce the odds of bacterial production. Certain heating devices, such as slow cookers or warming trays, are capable of keeping food temperatures above the 140-degree threshold.

Step 4: Chill

Perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours in order to prevent illness-causing bacteria growth. When outside temperatures are above 90 degrees, it is recommended that leftover food is refrigerated within one hour.

Cold temperatures significantly slow the growth of bacteria, and proper storage of certain perishable foods using refrigeration extends the food’s duration. The practice of freezing food is also fundamental to keeping food safe until cooked and consumed.

While refrigerating and freezing foods drastically slows bacterial growth, it is necessary to monitor food during storage. When food appears odd or exudes an unpleasant odor, it is assuredly no longer safe to consume. However, appearances aren’t always a reliable indicator of whether food is safe. Any food that extends beyond its recommended storage time should be discarded.

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