2005-01-21 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey Pheffer
Audrey Pheffer While it is something that many of us take for granted, using the proper precautions while cooking your food is one of the best ways to prevent many dangerous foodborne illnesses. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), employing such safety measures as hand washing, proper food storage, and safe cooking guidelines can help ensure that you and your family will continue to enjoy healthy, safe meals.

In order to help prevent cross contamination, you should separate raw meat products from ready-to-eat products whenever possible. When shopping, place raw meat, seafood, or poultry in sealed plastic bags in your shopping cart. These products should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible. Raw meat products should ideally be stored at the bottom of your refrigerator to prevent cross contamination from dripping juices. Meat should always be marinated in the refrigerator, never on the counter. Refrigeration will help prevent possible bacterial growth. Eggs should be stored in their original container and should also be refrigerated as quickly as possible.

There are several safety guidelines to consider when cooking meat products. Roasts and steaks should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit; whole poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and chicken breasts should be cooked to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground beef should reach at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The CDC has linked the eating of undercooked pink ground beef with a higher incidence of illness. The only proper way to determine internal temperature is to use a clean food thermometer. All leftovers should be stored in sealed containers and refrigerated or frozen within two hours. Leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and all sauces, gravies, and soups should be brought to a boil before serving.

Not surprisingly, washing your hands ranks as one of the most important steps in safe food preparation. You should wash your hands whenever you have touched something that may be contaminated, and before handling or eating food. As well, you should also wash your hands after handling uncooked meat or eggs.

It is equally important to clean the surfaces on which you prepare your food. Be sure to use only nonporous cutting boards and to always replace cutting boards containing hard to clean nicks and gouges since the nicks can often harbor harmful bacteria. Ideally, one should use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat products.

To learn more about food safety, please visit the US Food Safety and Inspection Service website at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/ .

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