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Guide to Handling Food Safely

Food is the essence of life. We need food to survive, but we also use it to celebrate, commiserate and start our days off right — just to name a few. What we put into our bodies affects our health and well-being. That’s why it’s so important to make sure we are handling our food safely.

In the United States, 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. Some of these illnesses are in the form of harmful bacteria that come from farms or factories and make their way into our food supply. Some contamination is unavoidable for the consumer.

Others could easily be prevented simply by washing our hands before eating or preparing our meals carefully. Just a little bit of informed preparation is all it takes to make sure your food is safer to consume. Follow these food safety tips to make sure your next delicious meal doesn’t come with any unpleasant consequences.

Guide to Food Handling Safety [Infographic]

Wash Your Hands

While you may not want to think about this particular topic before a meal, washing your hands can reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths by 50 percent. It’s such an easy thing to do, but many people skip this important step before cooking or eating. It’s a small price to pay to stay healthy.

To wash your hands effectively, use hot water and lather up with soap. Rub your hands together and be sure to wash everywhere, especially under the fingernails where dirt and bacteria can hide. Use a nailbrush if necessary. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. For children, instruct them to wash while singing the “Happy Birthday” song. When the song is done, they are done washing.

If you touch raw meat or fish, be sure to wash your hands again before coming into contact with any other food items. These items can be another reason people get sick from otherwise healthy food.

Avoid Cross Contamination

Cross contamination is when raw or unwashed food items come into contact with safe food items, rendering them dangerous. This situation often happens during barbeques, where people reuse plates that contained previously raw materials, use a marinade as a sauce when it had raw meat in it or make gravy with juices from undercooked meat.

It can also happen in your refrigerator if liquid from raw meat escapes and comes into contact with food items you may eat raw, such as fruits and vegetables. Be especially careful when preparing raw meat. Don’t reuse cutting boards, and don’t rinse raw meat in your sink. If you do, you should consider the entire area contaminated. Clean with hot water and a bleach solution before preparing any other food in the area.

Cook Meat Thoroughly

Many people like a medium rare steak, but undercooked meat can contain harmful bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to ensure your food is safe to consume. For beef, pork or lamb, make sure the internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat is at least 145 degrees, and 160 for ground meat.

Turkey, chicken and other poultry should be at 160 degrees before eating. If you have a casserole with meat in it, or you are reheating leftovers, you shouldn’t consider it done until it reaches 165 degrees.

Practice Proper Storage

Bacteria multiply rapidly on food between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees. Proper food storage will make food last longer and prevent food-borne illness.

Don’t leave milk sitting out on the counter. Put it away immediately after using it. After a meal, make sure your perishable leftover food gets refrigerated within two hours. Limit food exposure to one hour if you are eating in especially hot weather.

Don’t thaw frozen food on the counter. Budget extra time and allow frozen foods to thaw safely in the refrigerator. Make sure your refrigerator is maintained at a temperature below 40 degrees. If you are in a hurry, you can use the microwave, or submerge the item in cold water. Just make sure the water stays cold and that you replace it often.

Take Your Guests Into Consideration

Anyone is at risk for foodborne illnesses, but some individuals are especially vulnerable. People who are elderly or in poor health have weaker immune systems and may fall ill easier.

Children younger than five years old should not be allowed to eat food that might be harder for their bodies to digest. Pregnant women and young children should avoid sushi, honey and shellfish, and anything raw or overly spicy.

Having a cookout or a dinner party is no fun if someone gets sick. Check the packaging on meat and fish products for food safety information, and follow the prescribed safe cooking guidelines. You may find many to be the same, but some instructions and cooking temperatures vary with different types of meat or ingredients.

Follow these simple food safety guidelines and tips so that you and your guests will be safe when you prepare, cook and store food. May every meal you have be memorable — for all the right reasons!

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