Most food safety advice boils down to this: Keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold. That's the cardinal rule of the food service industry. That's danger zone food safety. It begins the moment food is purchased and goes beyond common sense precautions like keeping your food, hands and kitchen sparkling clean and germ-free.
Tainted food can cause serious illness, and quite often we
cannot even see or smell the effects of the harmful bacteria before it's too
late. When it comes to food safety, slipping on a banana peel is the least of
All food goes bad eventually, no matter how it's handled. Make it later rather than sooner. Here are some practical tips and guidelines to help you transport, cook, serve and store food safely, out of the danger zone.
The danger zone is between 40° and 140° F. Harmful bacteria has trouble getting going below 40° F and is killed off above 140° F. If food (in danger of contamination) is left between those temperatures for more than 2 hours, toss it; don't store it.
How do you keep food out of the danger zone?
Set your refrigerator temperature below 40° F, usually just below.
Shop for cold items last. Transport them together, and if they won't be refrigerated soon, put them on ice in an ice chest or insulated bag. These work for hot foods as well. Leave the ice pack out, though. (That was a "duh" moment, wasn't it?)
Place meats in plastic bags on the bottom of the basket so no juices drip onto other foods. Does that sound silly? I once took the little neighbor girl grocery shopping with me; she rode on the bottom of the cart. The last thing I remember is her saying, Liane, your cool-aid is dripping on my head, and me thinking, I don't buy cool-aid.
Invest in a good meat thermometer. Cook all forms of raw poultry to at least 165° F. Cook all other raw ground meats to at least 160° F. Cook raw roasts, chops, and steaks to at least 145° F.
In each case, position the thermometer in the center of the meat while it's still cooking for an accurate internal temperature. Or better yet, purchase a digital remote-display thermometer; the probe goes in beforehand, the display sits outside the oven, grill or smoker, and the display beeps at the right time or temperature.
Thaw foods in the refrigerator. It takes longer, yes, but they are never in the danger zone. Of course, food can also be thawed in the microwave, even turkeys, but the food should be cooked right away. And, I'm sorry to say, your turkey loses some of its juiciness that way. Better than trying to roast a frozen turkey, you say? I agree.
Food that has been thawed properly, in the refrigerator, can be re-frozen safely, but again, with some quality loss.
Be mindful of the danger zone; use good judgment. Keep foods hot or cold, respectively, right up until serving. Serve salads on ice and hot entrees in chafing dishes when necessary. For outdoor gatherings, keep the ice chest iced and in the shade, assuming you have cold food in there.
Store leftovers as soon as is practical. Yes, you can let your guests finish dinner before you snatch the food away.