One in six Americans will suffer from foodborne illness this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Why? Because at the right temperature, bacteria you can't see, smell or taste can multiply to the millions in a few short hours. In large numbers, they cause illness. It doesn't have to happen, though. Many foodborne illnesses can be avoided if food is handled safely.
When shopping for food, buy cold food last and get it home fast. When you're out, grocery shop last. Take food straight home to the refrigerator. Don't buy anything you won't use before the use-by date, and make sure to purchase food in the best condition. Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch and frozen food should be rock-solid. Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks, or bulging lids which can indicate a serious food poisoning threat.
Keep food preparation areas and tools clean, and wash hands in hot soapy water. Make sure you wash hands before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets. Wash and replace towels, sponges, and cloths often; bacteria can live in towels, sponges, and cloths.
Thaw food in the microwave or refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. The danger? Bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws. Marinate in the refrigerator, too.
It takes thorough cooking to kill harmful bacteria. You're taking chances when you eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are raw or only partly cooked. Some ground beef may turn prematurely brown before a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees has been reached. The color of meat is no longer considered a reliable indicator of ground beef safety. Cook red meat, including hamburger, to 160 degrees. Cook all poultry to 165 degrees. Cook fresh beef, pork, veal, lamb, steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 degrees; let rest for three minutes before serving.
A great timesaver, the microwave has one food safety disadvantage. It sometimes leaves cold spots in food. Bacteria can survive in these spots. So, cover food with a lid or plastic wrap so steam can aid thorough cooking. Vent the wrap and make sure it doesn't touch the food. Stir and rotate your food for even cooking. No turntable? Rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Observe the standing time called for in a recipe or package directions. During the standing time, food finishes cooking. Use a food thermometer to check food has reached 165 degrees in at least two places. Insert it at several spots.
Danger: never taste food that looks or smells strange to see if you can still use it. Just discard it. Is it moldy? The mold you see is only the tip of the iceberg. The poisons molds can form are found under the surface of the food. So, while you can sometimes save hard cheese and salamis and firm fruits and vegetables by cutting the mold out - remove a large area around it - most moldy food should be discarded.
For more information, or to schedule a program locally about financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, or Oklahoma Home and Community Education, contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163.
Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.