Food Safety for Your Family
You read labels, buy fresh foods, and do your best to prepare tasty meals for your family. But one thing that might not cross your mind as you cook is food safety.
Why is food safety so important? Proper food preparation protects against foodborne illnesses from bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria (which can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration).
Safety precautions include knowing how to select foods in the grocery store, then storing them properly and cooking them safely, plus cleaning up well afterward.
Here's how to make sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe.
Buying safe food is the first step. To ensure freshness, refrigerated items (such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish) should be put in your cart last. Keep meats separate from other items, especially produce. If your drive home is longer than 1 hour, consider putting these items in a cooler to keep them fresh.
When purchasing packaged meat, poultry, or fish, check the expiration date on the label. Even if the expiration date is still acceptable, don't buy fish or meats that smell or look strange.
Also check inside egg cartons — make sure the eggs, which should be grade A or AA, are clean and free from cracks.
- fruit with broken skin (bacteria can enter through the opening and contaminate the fruit)
- unpasteurized ciders or juices (they can contain harmful bacteria)
- prestuffed fresh turkeys or chickens
Refrigerating and Freezing
Before you put the groceries away, check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. Your refrigerator should be set for 40ºF (5ºC) and your freezer should be set to 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower. These chilly temperatures will help keep any bacteria in your foods from multiplying. If your refrigerator doesn't have a thermostat, it's a good idea to invest in a thermometer for the fridge and freezer.
Of course, refrigerated and frozen items should be put away first. Here are some quick tips to remember for foods that need to be kept cool:
- Keep eggs in the original carton on a shelf in your refrigerator (most refrigerator doors don't keep eggs cold enough).
- Put meat, poultry, and fish in separate plastic bags so that their juices don't get on your other foods.
- Freeze — or cook — raw ground meat, poultry, or fish within 1 to 2 days.
- Freeze — or cook — fresh meat (steaks, chops, roasts) within 3 to 5 days
- Store raw ground meats in the freezer for a maximum of 4 months.
- Freeze cooked meats for a maximum of 2 to 3 months.
Follow these handling and cooking guidelines to help prevent foodborne illnesses in your family:
Preparing and Cooking Fruits and Vegetables
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with plain running water (even if you plan on peeling them) to remove any pesticide residue, dirt, or bacteria. Scrub firm produce, such as carrots, cucumbers, or melons, with a clean produce brush.
- Wash melons, such as cantaloupes and watermelons, before eating to avoid carrying bacteria from the rind to the knife to the inside of the fruit.
- Remove the outer leaves of leafy greens, such as spinach or lettuce.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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