A couple of weeks ago, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom warned the public not to wash raw chicken before cooking it, saying that water splashed throughout the kitchen during the process could spread potentially harmful bacteria all over the kitchen, reported The Guardian.
The news came as a surprise to many people who thought that rinsing their meat actually removed some of the bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses and was a safe practice.
Food safety might seem like common sense, but as the recent switch on chicken-handling practices shows, the rules can change and aren’t universally followed. Many people follow advice on food handling that is outdated or just plain incorrect. Meanwhile, four million Canadians get food poisoning each year, according to Health Canada. Most of those people get better quickly and don’t have any lasting issues, but some can contract serious illnesses, or even die.
When you throw in hot weather and group gatherings, safe food handling becomes even more critical because high summer temperatures can create a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. But if you keep safe practices in mind, you can enjoy outdoor gatherings and keep your food healthy for everyone there. Our 13 tips will help you and your guests stay safe at your next barbecue or picnic.
1. Know The Symptoms: If you know the common symptoms of food-related illnesses, you can receive treatment more quickly, which can be particularly important if you contract one of the more dangerous illnesses. According to Health Canada, the most common symptoms of food poisoning are stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, or suspect that you have contracted a food-borne illness, talk to your doctor.
2. Learn Your Risk Level: Anybody can get food poisoning but there are some groups of people who are at particular risk of serious illness, or even death, if they contract a food-borne illness. Children younger than five, adults older than 60, pregnant women, and people with a compromised immune system are particularly at risk from food poisoning.
3. Clean, Clean, Clean: Food safety involves more than just the food itself. It’s important to keep your preparation surfaces and tools clean as well. Wash your counters, cutting boards, dishes, and prep tools in hot soapy water, and wash anything used to touch raw foods before using them in any other prep.
4. Wash Your Hands: Make sure you wash your hands often while cooking and handling food, with soap and warm water. If soap or water aren’t available, you can sanitize your hands with an alcohol-based solution. In particular, make sure you lather up after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood. And if you handle pets, change diapers, or use the bathroom, wash well before you touch the food again.
5. Use Different Cutting Boards: It’s a good idea to have separate cutting boards for meat and for vegetables and bread in order to prevent cross contamination, advises Home Safety, but if you don’t maintain separate boards make sure you wash them well after using them for raw meat, poultry, or seafood or unwashed produce. You can sanitize your cutting boards with a mild bleach solution.
6. Clean Produce: It may seem harmless, but produce can transmit food-borne illnesses as well, particularly when it’s eaten uncooked. Wash under running water instead of soaking produce in the sink to avoid transferring bacteria from your sink to your food. Because they grow close to the ground, melons have been associated with food poisoning; clean the outside of watermelon or any other melons you serve before cutting or serving.
7. Danger Zone!: Know the temperature danger zone for food, and keep yours out of it. The zone — between 4C (40°F) and 60C (140°F) — is the temperature where bacteria can grow more quickly. Your fridge should always be kept below 4°C. If you will have food outside in warm temperatures, take measures to keep it out of that zone by placing cold foods like egg salad in a cooler or using iced dishes, and keeping foods that should be hot at a temperature higher than 60°C. Food shouldn’t be kept at room temperature (or higher) outside for more than an hour on hot days, and try to keep your dishes out of the sun.
8. Store Meat Properly: Store raw meat in your fridge in containers to keep them separate from other foods and prevent their juices from contaminating your fridge with bacteria. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours, and freeze raw meat if you don’t plan to use it within two or three days after purchase. If you are marinading meat, do so in your fridge and not on the counter, and discard any leftover marinade that came into contact with raw meat.
9. Thaw Correctly: Don’t leave raw meat, poultry, or seafood in the sink to thaw — remember, room temperature is within that danger zone that encourages speedy bacteria growth. Instead, thaw in the fridge or microwave, suggests Real Simple, and cook defrosted food as soon as possible.
10. Cook Properly: If you’re barbecuing, don’t put your cooked meat, poultry, or fish on the same plate used to bring the raw meat outside — use separate plates for raw and cooked food.
11. Use A Meat Thermometer: Checking the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and seafood can help to ensure that your food is cooked through and to the correct temperature — which is important because heat kills bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria. Check the temperature at the thickest part of each piece, and avoid bone. When you’re checking hamburger patties, insert the thermometer into the side all the way to the middle.
12. Dealing With Leftovers: Picnics and barbecues often leave the host and guests with delicious leftovers. Some food is even better the next day, but not if it’s been harbouring harmful bacteria overnight. Refrigerate or freeze all leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria growth, eat leftovers within two to four days, and reheat hot foods to at least 74°C. Storing leftovers in a shallow container helps them to cool quickly and evenly, reducing the risk that harmful bacteria will grow.
13. When In Doubt, Throw It Out: You can’t always tell a food is unsafe by looking at it, smelling it, or tasting it. If you aren’t sure if it’s safe, or if it’s been left out for more than two hours, toss it — it’s not worth the risk.