And Just How Good Are Your Refrigeration Habits?

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, FYI | Posted on 19-12-2012

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Scary Fridge

As my husband and I walked through the home that would soon be ours for its appraisal, we couldn’t contain our excitement and anticipation. It was going to be ours! Everything was perfect – well, that is, everything but the fridge. As we opened the door, we couldn’t help but raise our noses and slam it shut. It seriously stank, as some would say, “to high heaven.” As we ventured to look inside it once again, we realized it worked just fine. It wasn’t that the food was going bad due to lack of refrigeration. Instead, it had a foul odor because nothing was covered (and I mean nothing), and some things looked like they had been in there since before we were born. Although we were grateful the refrigerator came with the house, we were a little less excited about how the current homeowners had taken care of it and the food inside that looked like it carried some pretty serious diseases.

This incident got me thinking about proper food refrigeration. When it comes to refrigerating food, most people don’t spend hours researching the best way to do it. While sticking food in the fridge might seem pretty simple and straight-forward, it might surprise you that there is a bit more to it than opening the door and putting the food inside. In fact, some things you do may be harming your food, making it dangerous for you to eat. So the question is: Just how good are your refrigeration habits? Here are just a few tips that will help you increase the safety of your food.

  • Tip 1: Cover your Food
    Not surprisingly, the first tip is to cover all items that go inside your fridge. This practice serves several food safety purposes. This helps retain moisture in your food. In addition, it prevents smells from mixing. And the biggest food safety reason? It helps you avoid cross contamination. When you have foods that are uncovered, particularly raw foods such as meat you are thawing, you run the risk of juices dripping onto other foods. This is definitely a problem, as it can easily cause foodborne illness. In fact, it’s an even better idea to always keep your meats in sealed containers while they are in the fridge.
  • Tip 2: Properly Place Your Food
    Where you place your food is also important to food safety refrigeration. Speaking of raw meat, always place it towards the bottom of the fridge. Why? Doing this helps prevent those juices mentioned earlier from dripping on other foods. Also, keep fruits and veggies in the crisper, as it will help keep them at the correct humidity levels. When it comes to things you store in the fridge door, the rule is to not store perishable items there. Items such as meat and eggs should be on shelves where they can stay nice and cool. Foods in the door tend to experience more temperature fluctuation, which could make these perishable foods dangerous.

Raw Meat on Bottom

  • Tip 3: Clean Your Fridge Out
    While this one may seem pretty obvious, it’s likely that most people don’t do it nearly enough. If something spills (especially if it is raw meat juice or something like that), clean it up immediately with hot soapy water. Again, this helps avoid cross contamination or disgusting bacterial growth on your fridge’s surface. Also, clean out the items in your fridge once a week, or earlier if those food items require it. Basically, don’t leave food in your fridge to rot for days and days, like those who owned our fridge before we did. Ew. It just makes sense to have a clean storage area for your food, doesn’t it?
  • Tip 4: Divide Your Food
    And finally, divide your food. After you have made a big meal, it’s a great idea to store leftovers in a few different containers. By dividing the food, you are able to get it to a safe storing temperature more quickly than if you stick the entire thing in. Don’t allow your food to stay in the “temperature danger zone.”

So how did you do? Did you pass the refrigeration safety test? Well, if not, don’t panic. The great thing is that these habits are pretty easy to create. Following these four simple tips can really increase the safety and quality of your food, which can give you peace of mind, knowing that you and your family are healthy and “food safe.”

Angela Bond

Taking on the Bird: Thanksgiving Day Turkey Preparation

Posted by Emilee | Posted in Food Safety, For Fun, FYI, In the News, Salmonella, Seasonal | Posted on 14-11-2012

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Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving Day is fondly referred to as Turkey Day, and for good reason. The beautiful centerpiece of a traditional Thanksgiving feast is the turkey itself. Cooks slave away in the kitchen for hours, preparing for days to produce a succulent turkey. It would be a shame to spend all of that time and hard work perfecting the bird, just to have your dinner guests running to the restroom from foodborne illness (or food poisoning for all you lay people).  Luckily here are a few detailed steps to keep Turkey Day from turning into a disaster….

Prep the Bird

Traditional knowledge would tell you to rinse your turkey under cold running water. The belief is that this process will help limit bacterial growth and keep your meal safe. But ask yourself, how? Cold running water will do nothing to limit the quantity of harmful pathogens on the interior or exterior of your turkey. What you might accomplish, however, is the fine spray and aerosolization of pathogens  throughout your kitchen; on your sink, hands, apron, countertops, utensils… wherever the minuscule, salmonella-laden droplets might fall.

Instead, skip the rinsing and season the bird to your liking. If you’re intending to use butter, oil, or herbs, separate them into small bowls to avoid contaminating the entire stick, bottle, or jar respectively. Discard whatever you don’t use from the small bowls, as the remnants will likely be contaminated with salmonella and other icky stuff.

Stuff the Bird (if you’re brave)

If you’re ready to go “all in” and stuff the turkey, be sure to have your stuffing prepared ahead of time. If any meat items, such as sausage, are included in your recipe, make sure they are completely cooked and safely cooled (to 70 degrees within two hours and then down to 41  degrees within an additional 4 hours) before adding them to your dry ingredients. If you plan on preparing your stuffing immediately before cooking your turkey, you can skip the cooling step, but never–I repeat, NEVER–put raw or undercooked meats inside a turkey’s cavity. Stuffing is already dangerous enough, considering how difficult it is to raise the temperature of dense stuffing to appropriate temperatures, that adding raw sausage to the mix almost guarantees you a foodborne illness outbreak.

Cook the Bird

Deep fat frying a turkey? Why not! In fact, there are numerous ways to cook a turkey, such as in the oven, on the grill, using a smoker, in a pressure or slow cooker, and even in the microwave. The traditional method used to cook a turkey is in an indoor oven. This way, the aroma of the turkey can waft through the house, making everyone’s mouth water. The important thing to remember is to keep the turkey out of the danger zone at all times and to cook the turkey thoroughly to prevent foodborne illness.

In each cooking method, the rules are generally the same. Outdoor methods such as grilling and smoking the turkey must maintain a temperature of 225-300 degrees. The oil of a deep fryer heats to 350 degrees. Conventional ovens preheat at 325 degrees. Whichever method you choose, employ a food thermometer to ensure your turkey reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. For the best measurement, take the bird’s temperature in the breast, the thickest part of the meat. Cooking times for the turkey are dependent on the weight and size of the bird. For specific cooking details, check out “Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table” at www.fsis.usda.gov or visit www.eatturkey.com.

Using these thawing and cooking methods, families and dinner guests should be filled to the brim with safe and delicious turkey. Happy Thanksgiving and may your turkey and your holiday turn out beautifully.

See the infographic on How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey.

 

Amanda Salisbury

Thanksgiving Turkey Safety Basics

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, For Fun, FYI, Salmonella, Seasonal | Posted on 12-11-2012

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Thanksgiving Turkey

Well, it’s almost that time of year when we break out the mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and of course, the turkey. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time when we get together to enjoy these foods with those we love most. For many, the preparations have been a tradition for years. For others, it may be the very first time hosting a Thanksgiving celebration. If this is the case, be sure you know the “Dos and Don’ts” of preparing a turkey, so everyone can enjoy a safe, delicious dinner without any unwelcome surprises. Here is a helpful list of things to be aware of when planning and preparing your turkey feast.

Plan Ahead

As with most things, it’s certainly helpful to plan ahead. Decide whether you want a frozen or fresh turkey. If you choose frozen, make sure you have adequate freezer space to store the turkey. If you choose fresh, you will need to buy the turkey only one or two days before the big day. Do not buy a pre-stuffed fresh turkey. You will want to do the stuffing yourself to make sure it is done correctly and safely.

Thaw Completely

Your turkey should be completely thawed before you begin the cooking process in order to remain safe to eat. If you choose to thaw by refrigerator, keep the turkey in the original wrapper and do not open, as juices can leak out and contaminate other foods. If possible, put your thawing bird at the bottom of the fridge to prevent juices from dripping onto ready-to-eat foods, other ingredients, and containers. If you’ve got crisper drawers occupying the bottom of your fridge, put the turkey in a roaster pan or on a cookie sheet to thaw.

You will want to plan on allowing for 24 hours per five pounds of turkey. That means if you’ve purchased a 20lb frozen bird, you’re going to need at least four days to thaw that bad boy in the fridge—so plan ahead.

If you choose to thaw by water, make sure it’s cold water (no more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s a good idea to put the bird in a large bowl or pan inside the sink to contain pathogens. Make sure you change the water every 30 minutes so you can make sure the water is at the correct temperature. As the water warms and the turkey thaws, bacterial growth increases quickly.

We don’t recommend even trying to thaw your turkey by microwave. Let’s just leave it at that.

Stuff Correctly

When it comes to stuffing the turkey, make sure you stuff it loosely. Stuffing that is packed in too tightly risks cooking unevenly. Cool spots inside your bird become a perfect (read: dangerous) breeding ground for pathogens like Salmonella. In addition, the stuffing needs to be moist as the water will quickly turn to bacteria-destroying steam. If you don’t like the idea of the stuffing going inside the turkey (we don’t either), you can opt to simply make the stuffing by itself and serve it that way. Drench it with chicken stock before baking and even your grandmother won’t know it didn’t come from the bird.

Cook to a Minimum of 165 Degrees

As with any food, the cooking temperature for turkey is key to a safe experience. The turkey is safe to eat when it has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit at its thickest. The stuffing inside the bird must also reach this temperature. Don’t simply guess the temperature! Make sure you have a trusty thermometer on hand and check that bird before serving it. Now, you’re asking, does the little timer that comes with the turkey tell me when it’s reached 165 degrees? No. No it does not. Use your own thermometer, taking the temperature in the breast and drumstick. Avoid touching bones with thermometer as they absorb heat and can give a false reading.

Refrigerate leftovers and Use Within 3-4 Days

Make sure you refrigerate those leftovers immediately after the meal. Don’t let the meat sit out for hours before getting it to the fridge. Divide the meat so it can cool easily. It will be safe and healthy to eat for three to four days—but absolutely no longer than seven days.

Now that you know the basics of cooking a safe turkey, you will be well on your way to creating a safe, enjoyable dinner for your friends and loved ones. Have a great Thanksgiving. Bon appetit!

Angela Bond

 

Source: FSIS.USDA.gov