9 Must-Know Food Safety Rules to Keep Your Food Safe
Whether you cook meals for your family on the regular or make your first steps in the kitchen, food safety is an issue you should never ignore. From the germs crawling on the raw meat you just bought to the bacteria that hibernate on the veggies that lie deep inside your freezer, pathogens are all around us, waiting to wreak havoc on our gut from the very first bite. So, to avoid any food-borne diseases that could arise (and in honor of World Food Service Safety Month(1)), we rounded out nine food safety rules that you should always keep in mind. It turns out that washing our hands is just the beginning!
1. Cool Leftovers Before Storing Them
Chances are you've stored hot food in the fridge or freezer more times than you can count. While it's not the end of the world if you did, it's probably best to avoid doing that from now on for one main reason. Putting hot food in the fridge or freezer causes nearby food items to partially thaw and refreeze, which could be a health hazard. So, make sure your food is completely cool before you store it.
2. Thaw Foods Properly
Even though there are multiple ways to thaw food safely, defrosting isn’t actually a strong suit for many. But, it’s an easily acquired skill. So, to avoid microbes festering on your soon-to-be-consumed food, just practice the following rules:
• In the refrigerator
If the refrigerator is your thawing method of choice, place the frozen food in a container so that the juices don't touch other foods as they defrost. Also, know that one pound of frozen food takes 4-5 hours to thaw. So, plan accordingly.
• In cold water
If this is your thawing option, change the water every 30 minutes. Also note that it takes about half an hour for every pound of food to defrost. Opt for this method if you plan on cooking the food as soon as it's thawed.
• In the microwave
Most microwaves come with a particular defrosting setting. So, make sure you thaw your food according to the brand's instructions. Also, remember that this option is only safe if you plan on cooking the food immediately after thawing.
3. Keep an Eye Out for the Expiration Dates
Always look out for the dates written on the products you buy or have in store at home. Specifically, keep an eye out for the expiration date. If there's one food safety rule that you should live by is never to consume anything that's past this date.
Also, scan the product for its "best used by" date. This indication shows just how long a product can retain its peak freshness. Knowing this date will help you manage your pantry staples more efficiently and get the most out of them, both nutritionally and in terms of flavor.
4. Reheat Foods Properly
Reheating leftovers may seem like a menial task. But, truth be told, one wrong move and the microbes left behind during storage can multiply and cause food poisoning. To avoid such a bad-case scenario, make sure to reheat your food until it reaches 165◦F throughout. So, stir your leftovers frequently to distribute the heat evenly (especially if you're using the microwave). Also, never reheat your leftovers more than once.
5. Wash Hands Frequently
This is by far the easiest and most effective way to prevent germs from spreading. Washing your hands thoroughly before you handle your food can eliminate the bacteria you may carry, so they don't come into direct contact with your food. Warm, soapy water can also work wonders as it helps eliminate germs even faster. Also, don't forget to wash your hands after handling raw foods like eggs, fish, meat, and poultry, as they usually carry many pathogens that could spread to (and contaminate) other foods or items.
6. Keep Kitchen Surfaces Clean
Another easy way to keep your food safe is always having a clean kitchen. Make a habit out of disinfecting your kitchen every time a surface (i.e., counter, cutting board, etc.) comes into contact with raw food. This way, you'll prevent any germ cross-contamination between foods.
You can even turn kitchen cleaning into a fun family activity by encouraging kids to be part of this routine. Specifically, you can encourage them to identify the most common cross-contamination points in the kitchen (think door knobs, kitchen cabinets, light switch, etc.) and challenge them to keep them clean throughout the day by wiping the surfaces before they leave the room.
7. Separate Raw & Cooked Food
A common food safety tip that you should always keep in mind is to keep raw and cooked foods separate. In fact, you should never use the same surfaces or tools to handle raw and cooked food so that you avoid cross-contamination. Imagine chopping a piece of raw poultry on a chopping board and using the same board to slice the meat once it's cooked. All the microbes from the raw poultry will be transferred to the cooked meat due to the direct surface contact, and chances are you'll have a batch of food that's swarming with harmful microorganisms. The same principle applies to storage. So, ensure that raw and cooked food will never share the same space in your fridge.
8. Protect Food from Insects and Rodents
Animals like insects and small rodents carry all sorts of pathogens and can easily contaminate your food if they come into direct contact with it. So, make sure your fruits, veggies, or grains (fresh or freeze dried) are stored in air-tight containers, quart jars, or with moisture-absorbent packets.
9. Get the Heat Right
An essential part of cooking is ensuring the food you roast, bake, or fry reaches a high enough internal temperature to eliminate all pathogens before consumption. The only caveat is that this temperature is different for every food, and it can be a handful to remember each one by heart. Luckily, you can check this list(2) for more details on each fare.
An easy way to know whether your food has reached the recommended internal temperature is to invest in a cooking thermometer. This gadget will help you measure the temperature accurately, depending on your cooking style or goal (rare, medium, well done).
What are your go-to food safety tips? Let us know in the comments down below!