It’s a New Year, and with a New Year comes new resolutions. So, what will you resolve to do differently this year? How about trying something that you maybe hadn’t thought of before, something that will protect both you and your loved ones: keep food safe. In an average year, about 48 million Americans become sick from a foodborne illness, and more than 125,000 Americans are hospitalized—but how many of these illnesses could be prevented if we took a little more care with the food we prepare for ourselves and for others?
Wash Your Hands
Your food safety resolution should begin with your hands and a little soap and water. Fortunately, most of us already wash our hands after using the restroom. Unfortunately, few of us take the time and steps necessary to clean the germs from our hands. To really get rid of those germs, use soap every time you wash your hands, and be sure to scrub your hands, fingernails, and lower arms for at least 15 seconds (not including the time to wet and rinse them). Do this every time after using the bathroom, before preparing food, after touching animals and animal food, and before and after handling raw meat. Hand washing is one of the easiest and most important steps to preventing foodborne illness in your home.
Another food safety practice to commit to this year is separating raw meats from other foods in your kitchen. This practice ensures that bacteria from meat, which will be killed during cooking, won’t spread to those foods that are about to go into someone’s mouth. When storing raw meats in your fridge or freezer, be sure to place them on the lowest shelves to prevent meat juices from leaking down onto other foods. When cutting and preparing meat in addition to other foods, separate cutting boards, dishes, and utensils and always wash dishes, utensils, and cutting boards before and after using them in raw meat preparation.
Cool Food Safely
Improper cooling is also a common cause of foodborne illness, so resolve to cool leftovers safely this year. Never leave food out to cool at room temperature, or pretty soon, your leftovers will host a thriving population of germs. Instead, cut or separate large amounts of food—like a Christmas ham or a pot of soup—into smaller portions and refrigerate them. Another way to cool soups is to settle the pot in a sink full of ice water; the ice bath should be deep enough to rise above the soup level without falling into the pot. Cool foods to below 70°F in no more than two hours, and below 41°F within four hours after that; the whole process should take no more than six hours. Throw away any leftovers that are not cooled within these time limits.
Lastly, if it’s been a while since you’ve swept out your pantry or cleaned your cupboards, make tidying a part of your resolution. Messes provide a great food source for pests like cockroaches, mice, and flies, and these creatures all spread foodborne illness. Store your food safely, and keep your kitchen and eating spaces as clean as you can.
Make this year the year of food safety by committing to protect your food from bacteria and yourself from illness. Do your part to prevent foodborne illness in 2017.