No matter if we are preparing a family dinner on a Friday night or grabbing a quick lunch to-go during work, food is one of the pillars of our day. From busy parents to kids in school, a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner are cornerstones to good health. But do you know if you are preparing your food correctly? Many families put in their best effort to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and only pick out the best meats from their local market, but without realizing it, they might not be preparing these great ingredients safely.
In honor of National Food Health & Safety Month, The Colony ER Hospital wants to go over some simple, important food health tips to make sure your family is eating right this autumn. We’ll also discuss why food safety is so important and what it can do to better your family’s health.
Why Food Safety Matters
On a basic level, we all know why we want to keep our food clean and safe. When we’re cooking day-to-day, though, the temptation to cut corners for convenience and ease can sometimes overshadow our dedication to thorough food safety. It makes some people wonder just how important is it for fruit to be washed before eating? What happens if you don’t cook your steak to be exactly 145°F?
It comes down to bacteria growth in your food. Not following proper cooking instructions means you will risk exposing your family to these bacteria. Consuming any spoiled or contaminated food can increase your risk of digestive problems and food poisoning. For this reason, it is always important to make sure you take the necessary steps to keep your food clean and safely stored.
Separate by Sections
When you go to the grocery store and are planning out your meals for the week, as you gather up your various ingredients, it is important to make sure that no cross-contamination is taking place. If you know someone with food allergies, then you have probably heard this term before, but to break it down, “cross-contamination” is what happens when different kinds of food get mixed together. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it usually isn’t a problem if your asparagus shares a bag with your tomatoes. But, in the case of raw fish or meat touching produce or dry ingredients, cross contaminations can lead to bacteria growth in your food.
To make sure all of your food stays where it should, when you are shopping, keep your meats, fishes, and poultries in a safety bag. You can find a lot of these small plastic bags in the produce department to help you gather vegetables and fruits, but you can use them to keep your raw proteins wrapped as well. If you use re-usable grocery bags, then pick one bag to be your dedicated bag for proteins and make sure that nothing else goes in it, so that no bacteria from the raw meat or fish can get into your other ingredients.
Fridge or Freezer?
Once you’re home from shopping, you might be wondering how to properly store all of your food. It is easy to toss everything in the fridge, or to think that if you’re cooking it that night, you don’t need to put it away, but this is not always the case.
For all chilled food, like dairy products, raw proteins, and eggs, the refrigerator is the best option. For produce, it can depend, but the easiest way to tell is by where you got your produce. If it came from one of the sections that is kept chilled and spritzes water over the produce, then you should put it in the fridge. If it came from the large racks in the middle of the grocery store, then it should be perfectly safe to leave out until being cut up.
The freezer is not just for frozen foods like ice cream. It is also appropriate for any ingredients you won’t be using right away, especially your raw proteins. If you went shopping for the entire week on Sunday, but you won’t be cooking that chicken until Friday, then it is safer to keep it in the freezer for a few days, so that you do not risk the raw meat spoiling before you cook it. All food that is being thawed out for use should be defrosted properly: by either leaving it in the fridge overnight, or being placed in a warm (but not hot) water bath several hours before cooking.
When you’re cooking, it is always important to wash your hands beforehand. We teach our kids to wash their hands before they eat, and in the same spirit of cleanliness, we need to make sure our hands are always clean before we handle raw food. Similarly, make sure your ingredients and tools are also clean. Before chopping vegetables, rinse them thoroughly with water and make sure your kitchen utensils are nice and clean. You also want to make sure you prep all of your produce first. After they are ready to cook and properly set aside, you can then safely prepare your raw meat or fish.
Keeping the Right Temperatures
Your food is washed and prepped, your tools are clean, and your hands are prepped, so now it is down to cooking! Vegetables and fruits are easy enough to cook, it all depends on when they get tender enough for your tasting. Meat, fish, and poultry, though, needs to be cooked to certain temperatures in order to kill off all bacteria and keep your meals safe. Getting a good meat thermometer is a good idea if you want to make sure you’re cooking your meats correctly, especially when using an oven.
For a quick guide on what temperature to cook your meat to, then the FDA recommends:
- Beef, pork, fish, and lamb cooked to 145°F
- Above ground meats cooked to 160°F
- Turkey, chicken, and duck cooked to 165°F
- Above ground poultry cooked to 165°F
If you’re doing weekly meal preps or putting away leftovers, you need to make sure you are properly storing your meals. Sealed containers with lids are great and making sure that they are all properly cleaned before you put your meals into them is best. Also make sure you check for any cracks or leaks in your meal storage containers. Keeping all cooked foods in the fridge for later eating is a must, and the FDA recommends that you put all leftovers away within 2-hours of when they finished being cooked.
When it comes to lunches, for parents and kids, then make sure that lunchboxes are insulated to keep cool temperatures and are packed with a cool pack every day. Even for peanut butter sandwiches or chips, keeping your child’s lunchbox cold is how you make sure bacteria doesn’t start to grow.
If you think anyone in your family might be experiencing food poisoning or a serious medical emergency, then The Colony ER Hospital is always here to provide you with concierge-level emergency care. We encourage everyone to pay attention to their food preparations to give you family a great foundation for good health.
This blog is written by Maggie Berardo, content writer at Nutex Health.
Nutex Health, Inc supports you and your family’s health. You can depend on The Colony Emergency Room Hospital or any one of our concierge-level, freestanding emergency facilities to deliver the emergency care you deserve, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.