September was National Food Safety Awareness Month, and as autumn, and the holiday season, begins many families might be wondering what exactly food safety means. Most households know the basic tenants of kitchen safety, such as never leaving the stove or oven on unattended or always cutting with the knife pointed away from you, and others. But these rules for kitchen safety are not all that it takes to make sure your family is getting safe meals.
In honor of Food Safety Month, Phoenix ER & Medical Hospital wants to talk about cross contamination and how important it can be to shop safely at the market.
Any families with food allergies will be familiar with this term. But did you know that it applies to more than just allergic reactions?
Cross contamination is what happens with different types of food co-mingle. It can be as simple as an orange touching an apple, or as dangerous as raw chicken sitting on a salad. Most of the time, we tend to let our foods touch. When there are no risks of allergic reactions, letting produce sit next to each other in the grocery basket and fridge is a harmless act, and won’t have much bearing over your food safety.
Cross contamination gets dangerous when meat and allergies come into play. Mixing raw food with cooked food increases the risk for bacteria to grow in your food which could make your family sick. In the case of food allergies, the risks increase with the severity of someone’s allergies. This makes cross contamination such an important factor when you are shopping for and storing your food.
Avoiding Cross Contamination at the Store
Before you bring your food home and before you ever start to cook it, you have to keep your food safe while you’re buying it. In the store, food is kept in different sections. We have produce, meats, dairy, dry goods, and so on, and using the store’s departments as your own shopping guideline is a good way to start. To make sure you don’t cross contaminate your foods in the store, then it is advised that you:
- Make sure all produce is appropriately bagged in produce bags
- Keep all raw meat, fish, and poultry in a protective bag so that it doesn’t touch anything else
- Make sure your boxed and dry ingredients stay dry and aren’t touching produce or cold containers with condensation
- Eggs are checked for cracks in the carton and kept on top of the basket so that they are not crushed
- All hot groceries, like ready-made meals and rotisserie meats, are kept separate from dairy, produce, frozen foods, and raw meats that might be affected by the heat
Making sure that your food is appropriately separated is the first step to safe cooking and limiting any bacteria growth. Keeping the cold foods cold, the warm foods warm, and all raw ingredients away from each other will make sure your food is safe for your family before you even start to cook it.
Storage at Home
After you’ve gotten your groceries home safely, you need to make sure they are stored properly before you cook them. Of course, we all know to put all cold ingredients away in the refrigerator quickly, but how long can they stay in the fridge? If you buy groceries for the whole week, then you need to consider what should be frozen and what should be chilled.
- All cold produce, like asparagus, berries, and lettuce, should be kept in the refrigerator and used within 3-5 days to maintain freshness
- All meats being used within 2 days can be kept in the fridge, but meats being used later in the week should be frozen and then thawed in the fridge overnight before they are cooked
- Dairy and eggs should be kept in the fridge, and expiration dates should be noted before use
- Non-chilled produce, like oranges, avocados, and tomatoes don’t need to be refrigerated, but should be used within a few days to maintain freshness
Just like at the grocery store, you will want to make sure your ingredients are stored separately from one another. Keep the raw meats in a bag so that they cannot contaminate anything else in your fridge, as this will easily cause the spread of harmful bacteria. If anyone in your home has food allergies, then you will need to make sure whatever they are allergic to is stored in a sealed container away from all other food so that it doesn’t cause any further contamination.
Serving & Leftovers Storage
So, you’ve shopped smart, you kept the fridge sectioned correctly, and you made a delicious meal. Is cross contamination still a possibility?
The answer is yes. Cross contamination doesn’t stop when you’ve cooked your food, and there are still chances for bacteria to grow in the wrong places if you aren’t careful. Imagine you are hosting a dinner party with friends and family. Maybe someone coming to the party is vegetarian or has an allergy. You might have kept all of your ingredients safe and separate until now, but when you are serving your guests, you have to make sure the utensils used aren’t mixing any dishes together.
Make sure there are separate tongs, spoons, and other serving tools for all meats and side dishes. You wouldn’t want drippings from your roast beef to get into the green beans, because this can increase the risk of bacteria growing in your meals, even after they’ve been cooked.
To keep your dishes fresh and bacteria-free, it is also important to make sure they stay the right temperature. Any cooked, hot dishes should only be left out at room temperature for 2 hours (only 1 hour if you are serving outside). All cold or raw dishes should only be out for 2 hours as well or kept on ice.
After your meal is done, whether it is a large party or your family’s usual sit-down dinner, it is important to put your leftovers away quickly. Just like serving for a party, your dishes are only safe to stay out 1-2 hours before bacteria could start to grow in them. Make sure you put your leftovers away before the 2-hour mark, and when storing them, keep each meat and side dish in separate, air-tight containers to keep them fresh and limit bacteria growth. Leftovers should be eaten within 2 days, or frozen if you plan to re-cook them at a later date.
For many of us, cooking and serving meals to our loved ones is a big part of our holiday season. As autumn rolls in, many of us are hosting holiday parties or just taking the time to gather around the table every day. When mealtimes are this important, we all need to remember to shop, store, and serve our food safely. A safe, healthy diet can reduce your family’s risk of food poisoning as well as keep them healthier this autumn, to combat the cold and flu season.
Come visit Phoenix ER & Medical Hospital at the SW Corner of Dobson & Queen Creek Rd in Chandler, AZ. 3050 S. Dobson Rd Chandler, 85248