Written by Lucinda Mancuso, RD, CDE, LDN
Over the last few months of social distancing and stay-at-home orders with COVID-19, everyone has become more focused on home cooking and family dining. Safe food preparation, cooking and food storage practices along with personal hygiene are important to prevent food-borne illness. As we gather outside in the summer and enjoy picnics and cookouts, remember to consider food safety using the principles of “The Four C’s”.
- Use proper handwashing techniques to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds before handling foods — especially after handling raw meats, poultry and seafood.
- Clean and disinfect countertops and surfaces before and after food preparation. You can use a solution of bleach and water (1 Tbsp of unscented bleach in a gallon of warm water) or purchase an approved kitchen cleaner for food surfaces. Cutting boards, dishes and utensils can be cleaned by washing with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Avoid use of kitchen sponges for cleaning surfaces in food preparation areas because they can harbor bacteria. Dish cloths are less porous than sponges for cleaning food preparation surfaces, but they still need to be laundered regularly and dried in a hot cycle in the dryer.
- Keep raw food items such as meats, seafood and poultry contained in separate coolers or containers to prevent juices from raw food products leaking onto produce or dry foods.
- Bring two cutting boards for food preparation at cookouts – one to use for raw meats and the other to use for produce and cooked foods.
- Cooked foods should never be placed on a serving plate or tray that has held raw meats, seafood or poultry. Use of paper plates or aluminum trays can be an easy way to serve foods and prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods; throw them away after one use.
- Never reuse meat marinades that contain raw meats, poultry and seafood on cooked foods.
- Leak-proof containers are always best when transporting any raw food products that contain juices or marinades.
- In preparation for grilling or cooking raw meats, it is best to thaw them safely in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on a microwave. Fully defrosted meat products will cook more evenly and help prevent temperature differences throughout the food.
- Cook or grill foods to the correct temperature to destroy harmful food bacteria. Do not depend on color, texture or touch of meats or foods to determine if a food is done cooking or grilling.
- Always use a food thermometer to verify internal temperatures of cook meats.
- Once foods are cooked, they should always be kept warm in containers or on a grill away from the flame above an internal temperature of 140°.
- Avoid the use of uncooked or partially cooked eggs in food items or sauces, such as hollandaise sauce, pasta and potato salads.
- Keep cold food cold at all times, even during transportation of refrigerated food products. Cold foods should always be kept at 40° or less, especially on hot days during the summer. Use of insulated coolers/carry bags that contain ice or frozen ice packs that are not left in hot cars or in the sun are best to keep foods cold when traveling to locations away from home.
- Never thaw foods at room temperature.
- Always marinate foods in the refrigerator.
- Do not leave foods sitting out for extended periods of time in warmer weather, especially
those that contain items like mayonnaise or salad dressings. Items need to be refrigerated within one hour or kept in coolers to prevent growth of bacteria.
Use these tips for safe food preparation and handling; now go enjoy time with family and friends at your next outdoor cookout!
Lucinda Mancuso, RD, CDE, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Peninsula Regional Health System.