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Keeping Your Food Safe

There are four types of food contamination to keep in mind when you are shopping, storing, preparing and serving food. They include biological (i.e. e. coli, salmonella, etc.), chemical (i.e. cleaning products, pest control products, etc.), physical (i.e. glass, pebbles, hair, etc.) and cross-contamination (of biological contaminants affecting ready to eat foods).

As we all know by now, it is extremely important to avoid cross-contamination and under-cooking your food in order to prevent food poisoning. Any fluids from raw meats, poultry, fish or eggs can transfer dangerous bacteria to raw fruits & vegetables as well as ready-to-eat foods. This is why they are referred to as “Dangerous Foods” in the food service industry.

In addition, foods can be contaminated by chemicals so it is also important to make sure that they are kept and stored separately from any food items. Chemicals can leak onto cooked or other ready-to-eat foods, which can cause them to become poisoned and dangerous to eat.

Physical contaminants include any outside object in the food that can be harmful if ingested. Always be careful when preparing your food items to ensure there are no objects in them. I remember finding a pebble in a bag of rice one time. That said, you can never be too careful.

When you do your grocery shopping, keep any “dangerous foods” separate from your produce and ready-to-eat foods. Many grocery stores now keep plastic baggies in the meat departments; you can also snag some from the produce department to put your meats into when you get to that department. You also have pay attention to the bag clerk because some of them will place raw meats in the same bag as your produce or other ready-to-eat foods, which can cause cross-contamination before you even get home. Make sure they aren’t doing that!

If you are purchasing canned items, a dented can is OK as long as there is no rust and the dent is not on any of the seams, which can compromise the integrity of the can. Also, do not purchase a bulged can, they can contain the bacterium Clostridium Botulinum, which causes botulism. If any of those exceptions are present, do not purchase the can. I would go a step further and alert a store employee so that they can place it with any other damaged good that are not to be sold. When I worked in a grocery store as a teenager, we had an area in the back of the store by the loading docks where all the damaged goods were placed.

Also, be very careful with glass jars and bottles. If they are chipped or cracked, do not use it, through it away. You don't want to take any chances with having a piece of glass in your food.

When placing your food in the fridge, always keep your “dangerous foods” on the lowest level. This will prevent them from leaking onto foods below them. I also prefer to keep them in a tray or pan in case they leak so that any fluids remain contained.

When Preparing your “dangerous foods”, try to use a separate cutting board from the one you use for your other foods. If you only have one, make sure that you disinfect the cutting board and any other surfaces that the raw meats may have touched between each use. You can do so by using one or two capfuls of bleach in your dish water. Be aware that the disinfectant properties wear off over time so make sure you change the dishwater accordingly.

As you cook your food, make sure you cook them to the proper temperature to ensure that they are safe to eat. The easiest way to make sure that your food is cooked through is to use a meat thermometer to gauge the temperature. Cooking times are an approximation because everyone's oven is different. I've followed recipes that have read an hour for cooking time and my oven needed 10 more minutes and some where it actually cooked faster than the recipe. This is why cooking is more of an art than a science.

If you follow these tips, you will prevent any type of food borne illnesses. Take care of yourselves!

Talk to you later!

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