It’s the middle of summer here in Ontario and if you haven’t become ill from your summer barbequing and food preparations, then you are doing well. Unfortunately many people are not as thoughtful about the hot weather and changing temperatures and their food safety and preparation. With the summer temperatures on the rise, so too is the risk of foodborne illness. With the arrival of hot, humid weather a near perfect environment is created for rapid growth of bacteria on our food, preparation centers as well as cooking surfaces and utensils. The sun is shining and it’s a gorgeous day and so more people are cooking outside and may not have easy access to refrigeration and washing facilities. Both of which are important in keeping bacteria at bay.
It is estimated that each year roughly one in eight Canadians, that’s approximately four million people, get sick from bacteria on the foods they prepare and consume. Almost all of these cases could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.
What should we be doing?
Food safety is not as hard as one may thing, mostly it comes down to common sense, preparation and being observant. The following four simple steps can make you a master of safe food handling and preparation. Bring joy to the food you and friends consume not belly aches and the sudden bio-rush.
Step One: Cleanliness, is the most important factor in food safety. Wash your hands and the food preparation surfaces often to avoid the spread of bacteria. I do not recommend those antiseptic cleaners, simple soap and water is all you need. But remember to keep the cleaning cloth clean as well.
Wash your hands with very warm, soapy water for at least 15 – 20 seconds before handling food. If you are handling raw meat or poultry, it is important that you repeatedly wash your hands as bacteria can form quickly. Wash the preparation surfaces and utensils where any raw meat has come in contact with after each and every preparation. Wash your hands after using the bathroom, touching pets, handling common object that others also use, etc. Always wash raw fruits and vegetables with clean water.
Step Two: Keep food separated; keep raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood separate from your cooked or any ready-to-eat foods in order to avoid cross-contamination from your raw foods. Keep cooked or prepared foods separate and away from surfaces, utensils etc. where raw foods are being prepared. Do not prepare meats and vegetables in the same area.
Step Three: Cook your food properly and to the right temperature. Cooking to the right temperature makes sure that any harmful bacteria are dead. Don’t guess! Use of a digital instant-read food thermometer is the best way to check and ensure meat, poultry, fish and seafood are safe to eat.
Cooked foods are safe to eat when internal temperatures are:
70o C (158o F) for fish
71o C (160o F) for ground meat
74o C (165o F) for shellfish, leftover food, and boned and deboned poultry parts
85o C (185o F) for whole poultry
Step Four: Keep food chilled that needs to be chilled or in other words, keep cold food cold. Perishable foods that are normally kept in the refrigerator, such as luncheon meats, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads, must be kept cool, preferably at a temperature at or near 4 C (40 F). Simply said, make sure the food that was cool is kept cool. On hot summer days, don’t keep food unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
The most important and simplest rule to keep is: When in doubt, throw it out!