Food safety practices should actually apply all year round, but in summer and any time of warm weather, regular precautions might not be enough. For example, you might be able to leave food unrefrigerated for several hours in February without seeing any major effects, but the same practice may not work for you in August when the environment is warmer and bacteria multiply faster. Also, just because you can’t see any change, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Everyone knows that food goes bad, but it occurs to me that the average person might not be privy to all the specific details. Madoline and I worked in the very non-glamourous industry of food services for about 10 months in 2003 (more details in Our Family Financial History). When first hired, we had to go through food safety training and learned a lot of things that we otherwise may never have known had we not happened to get jobs in the industry.
Practicing safe food handling and storage will not only save you money by preventing food waste from spoiling, but more importantly, it will protect your family’s health. For some of you, it might be common sense, but my experience with the general public and relatives is that these are things the average person is simply not aware of. I won’t go into detail about bacteria and all that fun stuff; this is just a basic introduction to food safety.
These hand-washing practices should apply everywhere, not just in the kitchen, and especially when using the restroom – and even more importantly, when using a public restroom.
- Before handling food – be it preparing, eating or storing – wash your hands.
- Wash your hands in hot water and with an anti-bacterial soap.
- When finished washing your hands, do not use your hands to turn off the tap. Whatever bacteria was on your hands (and the hands of every other person who used the sink before you) is also on the faucet handle.
- When in your own home and you are able to control the cleanliness of the facilities, this may not be as vital as opposed to a public facility. When at home, I often use my wrist or forearm to turn off the tap after washing my hands.
- When in public, use the paper towel with which you dry your hands to turn off the tap – after drying your hands on it. Yes, it leaves the water running for a few seconds longer, but it keeps your hands germ-free. I also use the same paper towel to open restroom exit doors before disposing of it. This may seem overly paranoid, but you never know when you’re in public what other people have touched and left on a door handle or faucet for you to pick up (and later ingest).
- If using a towel, make sure the hand-drying towel is clean and used only for hand-drying. Change them frequently as damp towels in warm weather can mildew quickly. If using paper towels, make sure the paper towel roll is clean – hasn’t fallen on the floor, isn’t often handled when hands are dirty or used for cleaning around the house.
Some people may call this behavior paranoid or obsessive-compulsive, but it is important to be aware that bacteria is transferred by touching. This is an important factor when it comes to safe food handling. When working in food services, we were taught that if your hands touch anything that has not been sanitized, they are dirty and must be washed again before handling food.
Food Preparation & Storage
- When preparing hot food, it should be heated to above 170° F (77° C). If you don’t have a food thermometer, a good way make sure it is sufficiently hot would be to heat to boiling point, which is 212° F (100° C).
- Try not to leave hot food sitting out for longer than 2 hours.
- Try to keep hot food above 140° F (60° C) if not being consumed within 2 hours to keep bacteria from multiplying too fast.
- Cold foods and meats should be stored at temperatures below 40° F (60° C).
- After 2 hours, store the food in the refrigerator.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, poultry, fish and dairy.
- Use an anti-bacterial dish detergent – at least for items used in preparing meats.
We’ve probably all left food out for more than 2 hours and have never gotten sick from eating it. I myself have done it and still do it sometimes, despite knowing the rules. But I feel is important to be aware of the correct practices and keep them in mind when dealing with food.
And remember that bacteria multiply faster in warm environments. So try to take more precautions than you usually would when handling and storing foods in warm weather. Teach your family the importance of good hand-washing and food safety habits. For the whole family to be healthy, it is important for each member to do his or her part.
One Last Tidbit – Grocery Shopping Carts
Shopping carts are one of the germiest things to be found in public. According to an article on ABC New, shopping cart handles have more germs than a public restroom. People touch it after handling food and money; kids stand or sit in them and teethe on them; food, raw meat juices and milk leak in them; birds poo on them in the parking lot; etc. It seems grocery stores have become more aware of cleanliness issues in recent years and some now offer sanitizing wipes for shopping carts.
When we lived in L.A. there was only one store in our neighborhood that offered cleansing wipes for shopping carts. Their prices were higher, but we often opted to shop there just because of it. If your grocery store doesn’t offer sanitation wipes, suggest it to the manager. Our local grocery store offers them and I always wipe down my shopping cart upon entering. The amount of black gunk that comes off it really quite frightening.
These were just a few basics garnered from from memory of training I received 5 years ago. For more information on food safety, visit FoodSafety.gov.