Best Practices in the Kitchen

Learning, understanding and changing food safety behavior through simple everyday practices can help make a substantial difference in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness. Based on a 2010 survey of consumers, NSF International developed the following list of food safety best practices for the home:

Not all handwashing creates equal results

It’s important to always wash hands with soap and warm water before cooking as well as after handling raw meat and poultry. Warm water is recommended because it is effective at removing grease and grime as it increases soap's ability to penetrate dirt and oils found on the skin. Lather your hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing off the soap and drying. 

Rely on a food thermometer rather than visual cues to determine doneness

Always use a food thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry are thoroughly cooked to the proper internal temperature as follows:

Whole or ground poultry 165 ºF
Ground meats (other than poultry) 160 ºF
Fresh fin fish 145 ºF
Fresh pork, beef, veal 145º F with a three-minute rest time

Rest time refers to the time the meat needs to stand without carving or consuming once it has reached a minimum safe cooking temperature. During the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source and allowed to stand, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which helps destroy harmful bacteria.

Don’t rely on sight to gauge if meat or poultry is cooked to the proper temperature, as meats can change color before reaching a temperature sufficient to kill bacteria.

Defrost foods safely

If you need to defrost food, don’t place it on the counter to thaw at room temperature. Instead, use one of the following methods:

  • Place covered food in a shallow pan or on a plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator until thawed.
  • Use a microwave to defrost. If using this method, you must finish cooking the food immediately after thawing as the cooking process has already started.

Most meats and other foods can be cooked from a frozen state, although quality may not be the same. Be sure to remove all packaging materials before placing the frozen food in a pan and set the oven for the normal temperature recommended for that item. It will take approximately 50 percent longer to cook meat or poultry that is frozen compared to defrosted.

Know when to wash produce

Pre-packaged produce that is in an open package or does not specifically state it is has been pre-washed should be washed before consuming. Wash produce in a colander to help avoid cross contamination from the sink surface. It isn’t necessary to re-wash pre-packaged produce provided that the package is tightly sealed and the label indicates that it was pre-washed and is ready to eat. 

Use Microwaves Properly

Microwaves aren’t what kill bacteria – it’s the heat generated by microwaves that can kill bacteria in foods provided the food item is heated to a safe internal temperature.  Microwaves can cook unevenly, even when equipped with a turntable, due to foods' irregular shape or thickness. They can also leave cold spots in food where harmful bacteria can survive. Follow package instructions and rotate and stir foods during the cooking process if the instructions call for it. Observe any stand times as called for in the directions. Check the temperature of microwaved foods with a food thermometer in several spots to ensure doneness.

Avoid stale party platters

Whether you are attending a party or giving one, remember the two-hour rule — never eat perishable foods that have been sitting out at room temperatures for more than two hours.

Discard leftovers promptly

Leftovers need to be placed promptly in the refrigerator and should be consumed within three to four days and disposed of thereafter. If you don’t plan to consume leftovers right away, consider freezing them, which can preserve food safely for longer durations.

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