Today I’m tackling one of the lesser covered topics about diet -- food safety. While food safety is something everyone is certainly cautious about, some everyday tactics can easily get overlooked in the name of saving money, making room in your fridge or simply not wanting to waste. Here I'm answering some of the most common questions I hear when it comes to this topic. Hopefully they’ll help you “waste not, want not”, but also be safe, rather than sorry.
How long can I keep chicken/meat/fish in my refrigerator?
It’s all too tempting to hit Costco and stock up for days on every food essential you might need in the near future. At the very least, many of us hit the supermarket on Sunday and buy enough supplies for the coming week. Knowing the refrigerator or shelf life of a few familiar foods will help you stock smart and know the truth on just how far you can push that meatloaf mix.
Be sure to also keep all meats on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator just in case their juices leak. You’ll avoid cross-contamination and a little elbow grease during clean up.
What is the proper temperature for cooking meat/fish/poultry?
It’s important to follow proper cooking temperatures because as delicious as that juicy bite of a rare burger might seem, food-borne illness is ten times more unsavory.
Note: When taking the temperature of meat, put the thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
If there is mold on one strawberry, do I have to throw out the whole container?
I would. Absolute applause to your desire to waste not want not, but in this case one bad apple (or strawberry) has the potential to spread pathogens to the whole bunch. I know it seems like a waste, but it’s not worth the risk to spare a few pennies.
To avoid losing a bushel of uneaten berries, keep your fridge clean and cool (40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower). And while it is always a good idea to clean your fruit before you eat it (even if you’re going to peel it), note that fruits like strawberries are very much like a sponge. Don’t rinse them before putting them away, that will actually make them get moldier faster. Instead, give berries (and other produce like mushrooms) a good rub down with a damp paper towel right before you're ready to eat them.
Is it safe to leave food out at a dinner party?
To start, remember the golden rule of serving food: “keep hot food hot and cold food cold.” Simple, right? And as far as what “hot” and “cold” actually means, 140 °F or higher for hot and 40 °F or lower for cold. If it’s perishable, food should not be kept out for more than two hours at room temp, and that time shrinks down to one hour if the temperature of the environment is more than 90 °F.
Think of the space between 41oand 135o F as the “Temperature Danger Zone” – foods shouldn’t be held at this temperature for more than two hours and ideally should be in the TDZ for as little time as possible. As for party leftovers, anything left out for more than two hours should be tossed. Yes, the prospects of tossing out all the excess is definitely not appealing, so try serving the goods in stages. Use heating trays when possible (actually surprisingly affordable at party stores and some places let you rent them), or refill serving platters in batches instead of putting the whole tray out at once. Cold items (think salads and sliced fruit platters) should come out right as people are ready to take their portions and should go back in the refrigerator once everyone has had their fill. Also, with a smaller crowd, serve food by passing plates instead of lining everything up on a buffet. Chances are, once everyone has a helping or two, no one is going back for much more anyway, and you can always grab a few more servings out of the fridge.
As for cooked leftovers, use those within four days, and make sure to re-heat them to at least 165oF. If somehow you thought the US Army was coming over for dinner and you’re left with truckloads, have to-go containers on hand to send everyone home with a helping. Or even put some in the containers folks came with – just be sure never to put cooked food back in something that once contained raw food without scrubbing it first.
A few more important facts to keep in mind: