September 18, 2008

You Can’t Be Too Safe With Food


News You can use For more information about safe food handling, contact the Iowa Beef Industry Council for a copy of a brochure, Plating It Safe. E-mail at [email protected] or call 515-296-2305 or visit

September is Food Safety Education Month. Food safety can't be stressed enough. Foodborne illness sickens thousands of Americans every day. All too often, it's deadly. Oftentimes it is very preventable.

Consumers' food safety IQ is improving, but surveys still show, for example, that most Americans don't use meat thermometers. They poke, cut open or just "wing it" when it comes to determining when meat is done.

That's distressing news when the USDA estimates one out of every four hamburgers will turn brown before it reaches 160 degrees internally, the point at which the meat is cooked and safe to eat.

Though we know food safety should always be foremost, sometimes we get in a hurry and simply think we can just "eyeball" it and know when it's done. Seeing should not be believing when it comes to cooking.

Of course, the first rule of the kitchen isn't really a rule at all. It's a commandment. Thou shalt washeth thy hands before thy toucheth thy food. Also, wash cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after handling meat. It's one of the easiest things you can do to prevent foodborne illness.

According to the beef checkoff's national beef research and safety program for the Iowa Beef Industry Council, these are the top mistakes cooks make every day in the kitchen:

Mistake No. 1: Guessing when meat is properly cooked. The most accurate way to ensure that meat is safely cooked is to use a food- safe meat thermometer. Insert an ovenproof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. An instant read thermometer is the easiest: It registers in just a few seconds. For burgers, make sure the temperature rises to 160 degrees F, which means medium doneness. Steaks and seafood need to reach 145 degrees F. Chicken should be cooked to 180 degrees F (chicken breast, 170 degrees; ground poultry, 165 degrees F).

Mistake No. 2: Creating a "Danger Zone" in your kitchen. The "Danger Zone" is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. The solution here is to remember the chef's mantra: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. It's important to set your refrigerator at a temperature (40 F or less) cold enough to discourage the growth of foodborne bacteria.

Mistake No. 3: Defrosting at room temperature. We all freeze our meat to keep it fresh longer; the problem comes when it's defrosted. Remember "The Thaw Law." Never defrost your food at room temperature. The best and safest way to defrost is to thaw food in the refrigerator.

Mistake No. 4: Mixing up the marinade. Remember the marinating mandate: Once marinade has been in contact with uncooked meat, poultry or seafood, it must be brought to a rolling boil before it can be used as a sauce. Boiling the marinade will kill any bacteria. If you don't plan on reusing the marinade, throw it out.

Mistake No. 5: Separation anxiety. It's important not to stuff leftovers into a large container. Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers (two inches or less) for quick cooling and to prevent the build up of bacteria. In a large container, food takes longer to cool, which is long enough for bacteria to grow. Make sure you freeze or refrigerate perishable leftovers within two hours or less. Never allow leftovers to cool to room temperature before refrigerating them.

Write to "Share the Fare," c/o Mary Ann Gassman, Telegraph Herald, P.O. Box 688, Dubuque, Iowa 52004-0688 (E-mail: [email protected]) Please include your telephone number. Or you may call her at 563-588-5652 or 800-553-4801, ext. 652.

Originally published by MARY ANN GASSMAN TH food columnist.

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