Monday, October 10, 2011

Food Safety: From Shopping to Storing

In my clinical nutrition background, food safety was only a topic broached with immunosuppressed patients (i.e. cancer, HIV, and post-transplant).  There have been several foodborne illness outbreaks in the past week that makes me think there is a broader audience here in need of food safety education.  Here are a few tips to keep you and your loved ones safe from shopping to storing.

  • Purchase perishable items last
  • Take food straight home to the fridge or freezer

  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf so it can’t drip on anything: this may take a couple days so plan ahead
  • Run meat under cold water until thawed and cook immediately
  • Thaw in microwave on defrost setting making sure to rotate regularly

  • Avoid cross contamination: use separate cutting boards for meat and produce.  I love the flexible cutting boards with different pictures to help keep food separate.
  • Scrub all produce with warm water and soap or vinegar using a veggie brush.  They also sell veggie washes.  Even melons need to be washed because once you cut into the melon, the knife brings the exterior dirt or bacteria to the interior of the fruit.
  • Don’t place cooked food on a plate that previously had raw meat: this happens often at a BBQ

  • Cook ground beef to at least 160oF
  • Cook poultry to 165oF
  • I suggest investing in a meat thermometer like this one which has a timer that alarms you when the food has reached the correct temperature. Thermometers should be placed in the thickest area of the meat, but not in fat or near bone. 

  • Refrigerator should be no higher than 40°F and the freezer 0°F
  • Refrigerate/Freeze food within 2 hours of purchase or preparation
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 4 days or freeze them right away
  • Leftovers may only be reheated once so it is advised to divide leftovers into smaller containers so you don’t have to throw out the excess once reheated.  I recommend quart-sized containers.  For example, you make a pot of meatballs for dinner and freeze the leftovers in a large container.  When you reheat the meatballs the next week for dinner, you must throw out any leftovers since you can only reheat once. The reason for this is that passing food through the "temperature danger zone" (41°F to 135°F) more than once increases the risk for the growth of spore-forming or dangerous bacteria.
Keeping these food safety tips in mind will help keep foodborne illness out of your homes.   
Have fun in the kitchen but clean up afterwards!


  1. Is there a limit to how long I can leave food frozen for once it has been cooked? Specifically meat, fish and chicken - once it's cooked can I freeze it indefinitely?

  2. Yoni, you might find this chart helpful. It has all the info you'll ever need for freezer storage.


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