Better Safe Than Sorry

In my office, I get tons of questions. Of course, the ones you’d traditionally think, “how many calories should I be eating a day?,” “is it a good idea to cut out carbs,” but then there are the ones that you might not expect – well, maybe not the least expected but definitely the most commonly forgotten. I’m tackling all the questions I get about 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. So here are the top few 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. Eggs: 3-5 weeks; should not be frozen Fresh Chicken: 1-2 days; freeze up to one year (for a whole chicken, for pieces: up to 9 months) Fresh Steaks (Pork, Lamb, Beef): 3-5 days; frozen 6-9 months Ground Meat (Beef, Chicken, Turkey): 1-2 days; freeze 3-4 months Sausage (Beef, Poultry, Pork): 1-2 days; freeze 1-2 months Bacon: 7 days; freeze 1 month Mayonnaise: Refrigerate after opening, then keep for 2 months; should not be frozen Hot Dogs: 2 weeks (1 week for an opened package); freeze for 1-2 months Fresh Fish: Really should be cooked the day of purchase (at longest the day after). For more on our fishy friends check out Something's Fishy Cooked meat or poultry leftovers: 3-4 days; freeze 2-6 months 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? No matter how tempting that rare burger might be, it’s important to follow proper cooking temperatures because as delicious as that juicy bite might seem – foodborne illness is ten times more unsavory. *Put thermometer in the thickest part of the food Poultry: 165oF for at least 15 seconds (duck, turkey, chicken, ground, whole, filet, etc.) Stuffing: 165 oF for at least 15 seconds, should be cooked separately (not in the turkey) Ground meat or fish(meatball, burger, meatloaf): 160 oF for at least 15 seconds Fish (filet, not stuffed): 145oF for at least 15 seconds Steaks or chops (pork, beef, veal, lamb): 145oF for at least 15 seconds Pork (all cuts of pork): 160 °F for at least 15 seconds Roast (roast beef, roast veal, rack of lamb): 145oF for 4 minutes (large roast size) *but stuffed roast or fish would be 165 oF for 15 seconds Injected meats (flavor-injected meats, hickory smoked, etc.): minimum 155 oF for at least 15 seconds Eggs and egg dishes: 160oF for at least 15 seconds Leftovers: Leftover food should be reheated thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming. 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. But, 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’ll actually help 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 out food 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 food. 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 (they mean the environ temp right, not the food temp?) is more than 90 °F. Think of the space between 41o and 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. Yea – 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 foods by passing plates instead of lining everything up on a buffet to sit. 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 – you can’t revive Aunt Milly’s potato salad once it’s turned. As for cooked leftovers, use those up within four days and make sure to re-heat them to at least 165o F. 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 on something that once contained raw food without scrubbing it first. A  few more important facts to keep in mind:
  • Never thaw food on the counter! Instead, take the food out of the freezer the night before and leave it in the fridge. (Be sure to place it on a plate or bowl to avoid its juices from leaking onto other foods.)Cutting boards, utensils, and countertops can be sanitized by using a solution of one tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water.
  • Scrub those hands before you cook! You should be able to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing for a thorough, germ-free wash. Stickler? Maybe, but you are what you eat and no one wants to be germs!

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