By Howard Seltzer, National Food Safety Education Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Although the food supply in the United States is one of the safest, bacteria or pathogens may still contaminate some foods we eat, making us ill with foodborne disease, also known as “food poisoning”. Currently, there are around 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year – the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans, making it essential to be mindful about food safety while cooking.
Despite foodborne illness often being mild and temporary, in some cases it can become severe and life-threatening. When you prepare meals and snacks for yourself, your family, and your friends, follow these steps to prevent foodborne illness: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
When preparing food, always wash your hands before and after handling food. Wash surfaces, and utensils with hot water and soap after each use. Instead of using cloths for cleaning, the FDA recommends using paper towels. Finally, when handling canned food items, always remember to clean the lids before opening.
When prepping and cooking food, it is important to separate raw foods, such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs from other ready to eat ingredients that will not be cooked. Using different cutting boards for raw foods and fresh produce is recommended. When cooking with marinades, never reuse the marinade before it has been boiled.
Always cook to safe internal temperatures. Use a cooking thermometer to be sure. Also, when cooking with a microwave oven, always cover, stir, and rotate the food. For more information on safe cooking temperatures, visit Safe Food Handling | FDA
After you’ve finished prepping and cooking, remember to refrigerate foods properly and promptly. As a rule, you should always refrigerate or freeze meats, poultry, eggs, or other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. When thawing your ingredients, never do so at room temperature or on the countertop. Generally, food should be thawed by using the refrigerator, cold water, or in the microwave. If you use a microwave to thaw, the food should be cooked immediately. After cooking, separating the foods into smaller containers will ensure that foods cool quickly.
Learning more about of food-safe meal prep can help prevent foodborne illness. Start putting these important steps into practice to protect you and your family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Howard Seltzer has been a public health educator at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition since 1998. Before joining FDA, he was with the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs as Director for Education and Intergovernmental Relations.