Food Safety Information
The USDA uses four simple words to help you remember food safety rules. They are Cook, Separate, Clean, Chill. Let's learn about each term.
- Cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. The safety of ground meat has been receiving lots of attention lately, and with good reason. When meat is ground, the bacteria present on the surface, usually E. coli or Salmonella, is mixed all through the ground mixture. If this ground meat is not cooked to at least 160 to 165 degrees, bacteria will not be destroyed and there's a good chance you will get sick.
The interior of solid pieces of meat like steaks and chops don't contain dangerous bacteria, so they can be cooked medium rare. Still, any beef cut should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees (medium rare). The safe temperature for poultry is 180 degrees. And solid cuts of pork should be cooked to 160 degrees. Eggs should be thoroughly cooked too. (Sorry - eggs over easy aren't good for you any more!) If you are making a meringue or other recipe that uses uncooked eggs, buy specially pasteurized eggs or use prepared meringue powder.
I just learned from a few of my professors at the University of Minnesota, why chicken can't be treated the same as red meat. Chicken must be cooked thoroughly, all the way through, with no pinkness, and an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees F. Chicken meat is less dense than beef or pork, and it's much easier for bacteria to travel through the flesh. Also, processing chickens is a much more invasive process than processing beef or pork, and bacteria usually are spread throughout the whole bird. So remember, chickens are always cooked to well done.
Here's information from the USDA: "Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. The hotline can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday, and recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day."
- Separate cooked and uncooked foods, as well as foods eaten raw and those cooked before eating. Cross-contamination occurs when raw meats or eggs come in contact with foods that will be eaten uncooked. This is a major source of food poisoning. I always double-wrap raw meats and place them on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator so there is no way juices can drip on fresh produce. Use the raw meats within 1-2 days of purchase, or freeze for longer storage.
When grilling or cooking raw meats or fish, make sure to use a clean platter to hold the foods after cooking. Don't use the same platter you used to carry the raw food out to the grill! I also wash the tongs used in grilling after the food is turned for the last time on the grill, as well as spatulas and spoons used for stir-frying or turning meat as it cooks.
Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw meats or raw eggs. When I see a chef or presenter on a TV cooking show handling raw meat or raw eggs, then wiping his or her hands on a towel before preparing a salad or fresh fruit, I just shudder. It is crucial to wash your hands with soap and water or a premoistened antibacterial towelette after you have touched raw meat or raw eggs to avoid cross-contamination.
Go to the next page to learn about cleaning and chilling.