Today's post is about something very important. Something to help keep you and your family safe. As much as we all love food it can make us very sick if it is not handled correctly. Now, as a professional in the food industry I have been trained on the proper handling of food from the raw stage to serving the food to customers. I just want to share some of this knowledge with those who are not so trained and may not know these things.
The two greatest factors for keep food safe are time and temperature. In the food industry we have a standard called the time and temperature danger zone. What this means is we have to keep food out of the range of temperatures between 40F degrees and 140F degrees. If food is going to be in that range of temperatures, then it can not be held there for more than four hours total. After four hours at those temperatures food is not considered safe for human consumption. Now I am not talking about all foods. This pertains to what we call potentially hazardous foods (PHF). These are things like raw meats, cooked foods, or pretty much anything you would not feel comfortable leaving outside the refrigerator once you are done serving it. The temperature range is essentially to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. I know that may seem like common sense, but it gives you a specific temperature to aim for. Not only that, but this is a standard that has been adopted by health departments so you know it has some merit.
As far as the time part of the equation, we have four hours total in which the PHF can be in the temperature danger zone. That means between the time you buy the food at the grocery store, get it home, take it out of the refrigerator, and prepare it, you have four hours total. The time does not reset just because you put your food in the refrigerator. So take into that into consideration the next time you are at the store. A helpful suggestion is to buy at least one insulated bag so that you minimize the temperature change of your food. Another tip is not to dillydally with your groceries. Get them home and into cold storage as soon as possible.
So now that you have gotten your food home safely you can just throw it into the refrigerator all willy nilly right? No, there is also a right way to store your food. Essentially you want to put food in an order where the most hazardous food is towards the bottom. They way we store food at work in ascending order is raw poultry, ground meats, whole meats, seafood, and cooked or otherwise ready to eat foods. At work, in a walk in cooler, we have a lot more space to work with. At home it might be a little more difficult because refrigerators were not designed with this in mind. The idea behind storing food this way is that if anything leaks or drips onto the stuff below it, it will not affect that food since it will be cooked to a higher temperature.
Speaking of which, in order to keep food safe you should know what temperatures to cook foods to. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165F degrees. Ground meats should be cooked to 160F degrees. Pork, beef, veal, and lamb is recommended to 145F degrees. Fish and seafood should also be cooked to this temp. I know that some of you are thinking, well, I like my steaks more medium or rare. That is fine, these temperatures are just what is recommended. Except for the poultry, cooking the other meats to your personal preference is OK.
But how does one go about checking temperatures? Easy, get a thermometer. There are various different kinds. The cheapest is the instant read thermometer. Personally I like the digital version better. It is faster and more accurate. You also have your probe thermometers. These are great for anything thick that you might have to stick in the oven. But no matter what type you choose, a thermometer is indispensable.
So now you have cooked your food, served and have leftovers. What do you do? You can cool them down and reheat later. Just keep a couple of things in mind. One, you need to cool your leftovers as quickly as possible. That means if you leftovers are still hot, don't just stick them in containers, seal them, and then put them in the refrigerator. With the lids closed it will take time for the food to cool. The best thing to do is to put the food in the refrigerator without the lid, allow the food to cool then close it up. You could allow the food to cool even before placing it in the refrigerator, but once again you are opening up yourself for bacterial growth since the temperature outside the refrigerator will not be under 40F. When it comes time to reheat the food, whether in the microwave or otherwise, you need to heat it up to 165F regardless of what it is.
My last piece of advice is what we call FIFO. What this means is First In, First Out. It is the relatively easy concept of using whatever is oldest first. Bought those bell peppers last week? Use them before you use the ones you just bought. I know it is easy, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of some of these simple concepts.
I hope this has given you some insight to food safety and helps you keep a safer kitchen.