By Sydney Carter ’13, Wellness Communications Assistant
When my mother cooks, our pets tend to pout. Why? Because she refuses to touch them; no playful pat, no quick scratch behind the ears. They are not allowed near her. She has to remain absolutely clean when she cooks. Food safety is important to her.
Proper safety procedures in food preparation and consumption can ward off harmful bacteria and potential illnesses. And lucky for us, “Most people do it fairly naturally,” according to research assistant and laboratory manager for the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL). “We were raised with fairly good habits… More often than not mom was right and was doing it right.”
September was National Food Safety Month. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) celebrated every week with a helpful food safety blog post. Today, let’s reflect on the top tips Terps should remember every month of the year:
- Develop a safe market mentality.
One day I came home from my local grocery story with uncooked chicken breasts and zucchini for dinner, in the same bag. My mother was not happy. She promptly lectured me on the importance of the separation of meat and produce when shopping.
As usual, she was right. If you’re food shopping, it is a wise idea to separate your meats and produce in your cart, in your bags and in your refrigerator when you return home. In fact, only let them mingle at the dinner table after they are properly cooked. Never forget to keep raw meats and produce separated during your food preparation.
“Separate your things,” said DuBois. “People know not to cut vegetables after they’ve cut meat on a board without either washing the board really nice and clean or changing boards and knives.”
2. Don’t mix and mingle hot and cold.
Temperature control is critical for keeping foods safe. If a food item, when ready to eat, is hot, it should remain hot and if it is cold, it should remain cold.
“A great tip for students is put your cold foods together and they will stay cold,” said DuBois. “When you’re walking home if they’re all cold together they’ll stay cold together. If it’s one thing cold with everything else warm it will be warm by the time you get home.”
3. Bag it, wash it.
If you plan to pick up your dinner necessities at The Farmers Market at Maryland then remember the mantra: bag it, wash it. Everything you buy should be bagged appropriately, and washed promptly either before storage in the fridge or prior to preparation.
“There is very little separation happening in a farmers market and that’s okay, because generally you’re going to buy like products,” said DuBois. But if you have to pick up some lamb and fresh peppers, at least place the meat at the bottom in case it runs and return home as soon as possible.
4. Take note of these leftover lifesavers.
Temperature control comes up again. For leftovers, everything should be kept cold. “Whenever you go out to eat, for example, and have leftovers you want to keep and bring back home or to your apartment, what you need to do is keep all the food in your refrigerator,” Dr. Jianghong Meng, director and professor of the Joint Institute on Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN). “By keeping the food cold, you prevent bacteria growth – the bugs that can cause food borne illness.”
Be careful how long you leave your leftovers out in the open, without proper temperature control. DuBois offers the 2-hour rule for students to use: “If you keep things for two hours where they’re not supposed to be they’re probably good for the garbage now.” After two hours it is unlikely that a student will have the ability to reheat food up to the level required to kill all harmful bacteria.
5. Consider the container when it’s time to reheat.
Without fail, every time I prepare leftovers to reheat in the microwave my mother reminds me to never use the to-go container, and always select a piece of glassware.
There are certain containers that are not meant for the microwave. It is usually common knowledge that anything metal will spark flames, but plastics are not necessarily an ideal alternative. Be mindful that reheating in a plastic container could contaminate your food with whatever leeches out of the plastic material.
6. Finally, think before you take it to go.
Consider how long your food sat in front of you, and how long it will be until you can refrigerate it. There are certain foods to always leave behind, such as any type of seafood and definitely sushi. “Look at the quality of what you’re trying to save, especially with leftovers,” said DuBois. “Is it worth saving? Is it something that is risky, that can make you sick and is not worth a whole lot? Saving the leftover of a $7 meal is probably not worth $20 in antibiotics.”
What food safety practices did you learn from your family? What food safety practices are important to you now? Share with us in the comment section below.