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Food safety: The top five mistakes people make in the kitchen

Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2006

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Most people think of food safety in the summer when grilling and picnics are at their peak. However, food safety is important year-round and no matter what the season, preventing foodborne illness should be top of mind. Whether you’re cooking a five-course meal or preparing food for a tailgating party, it’s crucial to know how to keep your food safe, especially when cooking for family and friends.

Those who dabble in the kitchen and experienced chefs alike need to safeguard themselves from making everyday mistakes when preparing food for family and friends. "The good news is that our food is safer than ever. The government recently reported that foodborne illnesses are decreasing significantly, and America's beef producers have played an important role in making this happen," said Chef Whitney Werner, certified executive chef at Whitney's at the Santa Monica Beach Club and president of the American Culinary Federation's Los Angeles chapter.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), millions of people get sick each year from food poisoning, but that number is declining. The latest CDC data shows that the overall incidence of foodborne illness attributed to E. coli O157:H7 has declined 42 percent in the last few years, meeting the United States' Healthy People 2010 goal six years ahead of schedule. While the risk is extremely low, consumers can eliminate the possibility of foodborne illness by avoiding the five most common mistakes made in the kitchen:

Mistake #1: Guessing when your meat is properly cooked.

The most accurate way to ensure your meat is safely cooked is to use an instant read meat thermometer, which can be found near the meat case of your supermarket. For instance, if you are cooking a steak, one of America's favorites, insert your instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat - it'll register the temperature in just a few seconds.

For ground beef, make sure the internal temperature rises to 160 degrees F. Cook beef roasts to 145 degrees F and poultry to 180 degrees F (170 degrees F for breast meat). Steaks and seafood need to reach 145 degrees F. Have fun with this and teach your kids how to use a meat thermometer at a young age to help them develop safe cooking habits from the start.

Mistake #2: Creating a "Danger Zone" in your kitchen.

The “Danger Zone” is the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. The solution is to always remember the chef’s mantra: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Refrigerate foods quickly, at least within two hours or sooner. It's important to set your refrigerator at a cold enough temperature (40 degrees F or less) to discourage the growth of foodborne bacteria. If you are going on a trip with your family and traveling with food that may spoil, use cold packs to fill the cooler and try to avoid bringing foods that need to stay warm on long trips.

Mistake #3: Defrosting at room temperature.

We all freeze our meat to keep it fresh longer; the problem comes when you defrost it. Remember "The Thaw Law." Never defrost your food at room temperature. The safest way to defrost is to thaw food in your refrigerator so plan ahead – if you’re planning to make a steak tomorrow, you should move it from the freezer to the refrigerator, allowing for enough time for the meat to defrost depending on its size.

Mistake #4: Mixing up the marinade.

It's important to remember the marinating mandate: once the marinade has been in contact with uncooked meat, poultry or seafood, it must be brought to a rolling boil before it can be used as a sauce or gravy. Boiling the marinade will kill any bacteria. If you don't plan on reusing your marinade, throw it out.

Mistake #5: Savor the Flavor.

It's important not to stuff your leftovers into a large container. Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers (two inches or less) for quick cooling and to prevent the build up of bacteria. In a large container, food takes longer to cool, which gives time for bacteria to grow. Make sure you freeze or refrigerate your perishable leftovers within two hours or less. Never allow leftovers to reach room temperature before refrigerating them.

By avoiding everyday mistakes in the kitchen, you can enjoy safe and healthy meals year-round.

Courtesy of ARA Content

 
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