While cel­e­brat­ing at gath­er­ings, avoid food­borne ill­ness

The Weekly Vista - - News - Staff Re­ports

Spring is here, and warmer tem­per­a­tures bring events like wed­dings, grad­u­a­tions and hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions, says Easter H. Tucker, in­terim fam­ily and con­sumer sci­ences pro­gram leader for the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. These events bring to­gether groups of peo­ple to en­joy con­sid­er­able amounts of de­li­cious and of­ten tra­di­tional foods. But if proper food safety steps aren’t taken, your cel­e­bra­tion could turn into a dis­as­ter.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion es­ti­mates that in the U.S., food­borne ill­ness causes 128,000 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and 3,000 deaths each year, Tucker said. This spring, the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) is of­fer­ing tips on how to prop­erly han­dle, cook and store food when serv­ing large groups of peo­ple. These tips will keep you and your guests safe from food-borne ill­ness.

Four ba­sic steps to food safety

Hav­ing the right kitchen equip­ment will make your life eas­ier when prac­tic­ing four food safety steps: clean, sep­a­rate, cook and chill.

• Clean hands fre­quently with warm soapy wa­ter, es­pe­cially be­fore and af­ter han­dling raw food; thor­oughly wash cut­ting boards, counter-tops and uten­sils with hot soapy wa­ter.

• Use sep­a­rate cut­ting boards for raw and readyto-eat foods. For ex­am­ple, use one cut­ting board for pro­duce and a dif­fer­ent one for raw meat and poul­try. That way, you are pre­vent­ing cross-con­tam­i­na­tion be­tween raw and ready-toeat food.

• Al­ways use a food ther­mome­ter when cook­ing. Mea­sure the in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture of meats, poul­try, seafood and egg prod­ucts be­fore serv­ing to make sure they are ready to eat. The USDA Safe Min­i­mum In­ter­nal Tem­per­a­tures chart will help you de­ter­mine if your food is safe to eat:

— Beef, pork, veal and lamb, steaks, chops or roasts: 145°F and al­low to rest for at least three min­utes (in­clud­ing fresh or smoked ham)

— Ground meats: 160° — Fully cooked ham (to re­heat): Re­heat cooked hams pack­aged in USDAin­spected plants to 140°F and all oth­ers to 165°F

— All poul­try (breasts, whole birds and stuff­ing, legs, thighs, wings and ground poul­try): 165°F — Egg dishes: 160°F — Fish: 145°F — Left­overs and casseroles: 165°F

• Per­ish­able food should not be left out at room tem­per­a­ture for more than two hours. At cel­e­bra­tion gath­er­ings, make sure your cold food is kept cold (40°F or be­low) by serv­ing it in smaller por­tions and re­fill­ing, or by put­ting the food con­tain­ers over ice. Hot food should be kept hot (140°F or above); you can keep the food warm by serv­ing in warm­ing trays or us­ing a slow cooker.

Gro­cery shop­ping plan

When shop­ping for gro­ceries, pick up cold items last and bring them home im­me­di­ately so they are re­frig­er­ated or frozen within two hours.

Place raw meat and poul­try in plas­tic bags to pre­vent raw juices (which may con­tain harm­ful bac­te­ria) from drip­ping onto other foods in your shop­ping cart.

Spring kitchen ba­sics

• Make sure your re­frig­er­a­tor tem­per­a­ture is set to 40°F or be­low and your freezer at 0°F or be­low. An appliance ther­mome­ter can come in handy to check those tem­per­a­tures.

• Spring clean your fridge for a fresh, healthy start this time of the year.

• Do not wash meat and poul­try. Do­ing so in­creases the risk of cross-con­tam­i­na­tion in your kitchen. Cook­ing meat and poul­try to the cor­rect in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture will kill any bac­te­ria.

• Do not thaw foods at room tem­per­a­ture. Safe thaw­ing can only be done in the re­frig­er­a­tor, in the mi­crowave or by us­ing the cold-wa­ter method. If you thaw us­ing the mi­crowave

or the cold-wa­ter method, be sure to cook the food im­me­di­ately af­ter it has thawed.

• Per­ish­able food should not be left at room tem­per­a­ture for more than two hours (one hour when the

tem­per­a­ture is above 90°F).

• When stor­ing left­overs like large pots of soup or stew, di­vide them into shal­low con­tain­ers. Slice large por­tions of cooked meat or poul­try into smaller por­tions and store in con­tain­ers. Cover and re­frig­er­ate.

Con­sumers with ques­tions

about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poul­try Hot­line at 1-888-MPHot­line (1-888674-6854) or chat live with a food safety spe­cial­ist in English or Span­ish at AskKaren.gov, avail­able from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Mon­day through Fri­day.

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