You get home from an exhausting day at work, feed the family, then settle down for a little bit of relaxation time. You open the newspaper, click on the television, or fire up the computer. What are the first words you see? Beef recall. Your first thoughts are “I hope I haven’t just fed that tainted meat to my children” as you scan the news for details of the company in question and the locations where the beef was distributed. The relief you feel when you find that the recall took place in another state or another country is palpable. You were lucky. This time.
As the food industry continues to grow, stories about food poisoning, or its official title “foodborne illness” multiply. In one state 50 people were sickened. In another, children died. The government scrambles to keep up with the regulations and inspection processes that reduce the risks to the public. But are we doomed to rely on the efforts of regulatory agencies to keep our families safe, or is there something we can do to ensure that they stay healthy? No!! The consumer…you…has a great deal of control over whether the food his or her family eats sickens a family member, or if everyone remains healthy.
The very first thing you must do is to ensure that you purchase your meat from a reputable vendor. Make sure that the premises are clean and that the workers look healthy. Make sure that their refrigerated products appear very cool to the touch; the meat should not be in the Temperature Danger Zone between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees. Keep the meat you are purchasing away from other foods, especially produce like salad ingredients that will not be cooked.
If you will be keeping the meat in the refrigerator at home for any length of time, make sure that the refrigerator is keeping food chilled at below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the meat on the bottom shelf, below ready-to-eat foods and produce. If the meat juices were to drip, they won’t then cross contaminate these products. Keep the meat no longer than 72 hours before cooking. If you are planning to keep it longer, make the decision to put the meat into the freezer when you get home instead of the refrigerator, and practice proper thawing techniques before cooking.
Make sure your hands are clean before handling the raw meat, and wash them immediately after. Handling raw meat and then touching other foods or items in your kitchen can cross-contaminate those items and cause germs to remain on them and multiply.
If you use a cutting board for the meat, make sure that it is made from a non porous material, such as glass or acrylic. Do not place raw meat on a wooden bread board. After using the cutting board, wash it, rinse it, then sanitize it in a solution of one capful of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. Do not rinse the cutting board after sanitizing it. (Don’t worry; restaurants use this solution all the time to sanitize the items you eat from. It won’t sicken you. ) Let it air dry, and then put it away.
The most important thing you can do is to make sure that the meat is cooked fully to the proper Minimum Internal Temperature. Do not rely on how it looks. If you want to ensure your family remains free of foodborne illness, it is vital that you keep a metal stem thermometer available, and make sure it is calibrated. Check several portions of the thickest part of the meat.
From the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, these are the temperatures that you must ensure your food is cooked to in order to ensure safety:
USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures
Steaks & Roasts - 145 °F
Fish - 145 °F
Pork - 160 °F
Ground Beef - 160 °F
Egg Dishes - 160 °F
Chicken Breasts - 165 °F
Whole Poultry - 165 °F
Following these guidelines will drastically reduce the risk of anybody in your immediate family contracting food borne illness.
Angela Edwards lives on Washington State's Coastline in the Great Northwest.
Free-Breathtaking, mystical photo of WA's Mount Rainier