Food Allergy Basics

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 diseases can be spread through food. Foodborne illnesses affect millions of people every year. Because of this, food safety is an important part of living a healthy life. No matter what your diet looks like, a healthy lifestyle requires that food remain uncontaminated and fresh.

Keep It Clean

A clean kitchen is easy to achieve. However, upkeep has to be performed regularly. Standing water and old food allow bacteria to spread. Therefore, make sure to clean out your refrigerator regularly. You should also clean dishes regularly—don’t let them sit in the sink for days on end.

Cleaning and replacing sponges is one easy way to control kitchen bacteria. Ironically, the tool we use to clean our dishes is often the one that spreads the most bacteria. A wet sponge is an ideal place for bacteria to grow, as it is built to trap moisture.

Some helpful tips include:

  • cleaning sponges by microwaving them for about a minute to kill bacteria
  • replacing sponges that are old or worn
  • never using an old, wet sponge to clean dishes

It’s also important to keep countertops clean and free of debris. Wipe down counters both before and after cooking to keep bacteria at bay. All cooking utensils should be cleaned and dried before use.

Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands before and after handling food. Washing your hands before handling food keeps you from contaminating it with bacteria. Washing your hands afterward keeps you from bringing any foodborne bacteria with you.

Separate the Food Groups

Store different types of food in different places. Meat, dairy, and produce should all be kept in their own areas. Each have unique health issues associated with them. It’s particularly important to separate any vegetables that are to be eaten raw. If they pick up bacteria associated with meat and dairy, the contaminants will not be killed in the cooking process.

Vegetables

Veggies are best kept in the crisper section of the refrigerator. This separates them from meat and dairy.

It’s also important to rinse vegetables thoroughly before eating. Scrub firm vegetables with a clean brush that you use only for this purpose. Remove any bruised or damaged areas.

Meat & Dairy

Keep meat and dairy in separate areas. Contaminants from meat can affect dairy and vice versa. Separating foods reduces the risk of spreading contaminants.

Utensils & Appliances

When you prepare food, always use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables to prevent cross-contamination. Additionally, keep foods separate until it’s time to combine them in your dish.

You should wash all utensils used to prepare raw meat before they touch any other food. Cooked meat should never be served with the same utensils used to prepare it.

Cooking Temperature and Storage

Bacterial growth can be avoided by controlling the temperature of food. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ online resource for food safety tips, FoodSafety.gov, the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40 and 1400 F.

Cooking Temperature

Don’t rely on color or texture to tell you when food is done, but instead use a food thermometer to ensure that food is properly cooked. Most fresh or ground meat and poultry should be cooked to 145-1650 F. Food should be kept hot after cooking—if food isn’t plated immediately, keep the temperature above 1490 F. Most common bacteria cannot survive at hotter temperatures.

Storing Cooked Food

After cooking, be sure to store leftovers properly. Be smart about packaging and don’t forget to refrigerate perishables. Bacteria can begin to grow in perishable foods within two hours at room temperature. In warmer temperatures (such as during summer), bacteria begin to multiply within one hour.  With that information in mind, FoodSafety.gov states that all perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours to avoid contamination.

Storing perishables in the refrigerator or freezer is a must. A refrigerator should generally stay around 340 F to protect food from going bad. Frozen food is usually best preserved at around zero degrees Fahrenheit, if possible. All frozen foods should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave and not on the kitchen countertop. Additionally, any food that is thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

Bacteria can grow in food without showing any outward signs, meaning you can’t always tell if something has spoiled just by smelling or looking at it.

Not sure if your leftovers are still good? Check out the food storage timetable at FoodSafety.gov for tips.