First Steps to Food Safety

What you should know about food safety before it hits your plate.

It's a great day. The entire family is out on a picnic at the park, enjoying great conversation, a friendly game of badminton, and some of Uncle James' world-famous potato salad. On the ride home, your cell phone rings and you find out your sister is feeling sick. Two minutes later, another call. Your cousin feels the same way. By the time you get home, you sprint to the bathroom and realize that you, too, fell victim to food poisoning.

While the need for food safety on the grill and on the way to your mouth is often discussed, you may not realize how much danger your food may be in before it ever leaves your house. What can you do to keep your food safe, sound, and ready to be gobbled down safely at the next family outing?

Do This: Refrigerate
Any time you bring a food item into your home that requires refrigeration or freezing, it should be put in the proper place immediately. If you get in a crunch and have cold foods that can't get in cold storage immediately, never allow it to stay out longer than two hours at room temperature. In the event you're in an environment that is much warmer than typical room temperature, get the food refrigerated much faster or prepare to toss the food in the garbage.

Do This: Enjoy
Instead of letting lunchmeats, hot dogs, and other ready-to-eat foods sit in the fridge for weeks and months, eat them today. Allowing them to stay in the refrigerator puts your cold meats at increased risk for carrying dangerous bacteria. So sidestep this unwanted food issue by chowing down as soon as possible.

Do This: Research
In order to get the right foods in the right place, you have to know where they go. If you're unsure where a certain food item should be placed, look at the label. Every food that requires refrigeration or freezing will be labeled appropriately, so figuring out what goes in the fridge, freezer, or pantry is usually no problem. Once you know what belongs in the cold, put it there.

Do This: Trash
Have something in the refrigerator that doesn't quite look right? Smells a little funny? Don't run the risk of food poisoning and other food-related illnesses by eating it to spite your eyes and nose. Instead, take the potentially hazardous food and throw it in the trash. Even if it doesn't make you sick, old food that may have a little mold on it tastes awful.

Do This: Reset
To ensure your foods are kept at the right temperature, it's important to have your refrigerator and freezer set at the right temperature. The ideal temperature for a refrigerator is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and the freezer should stay at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a good idea to check the temperature in both every once in a while and adjust the temperature as needed.

Beyond the Fridge
As you probably know, food safety hazards aren't limited to foods that require refrigerating or freezing. The canned goods sitting in your pantry can also be home to some rather nasty little bacteria that can cause you to be on sick leave for quite a while.

Fortunately, avoiding contamination in non-refrigerated foods is relatively easy. Here's what to do.

  • Avoid storing foods under your kitchen sink. You may not see any leaks under there, but if there is a small leak, your potatoes, onions, apples, and other foods can grow gross in no time.
  • Store food away from dangerous chemicals. Just because rat poison and toilet cleaning liquids have lids on them doesn't mean they won't affect food nearby. To avoid any potential contamination, keep your household cleaning supplies and other potential hazards away from all foods at all times.
  • Keep an eye out for damaged canned goods. If you see any kind of damage - whether the can has a visible hole or is dented severely, be food smart and toss it in the garbage.

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