Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Springtime is associated with many things; warming weather, rain showers, planting flowers, new growth – and often times, a bit of spring cleaning. This year, as you prepare to clean your closets, garages and everything in between, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black also encourages you to give your kitchen a thorough cleaning to help ensure food safety year-round.
“Spring is the perfect time of year to use or get rid of food items that could be losing their quality or may have spoiled,” Commissioner Black said. “Doing an in-depth cleaning of your refrigerator and freezer at least once a year is very important to help prevent cross-contamination and food borne illness for the whole family.”
Here is a list of easy, simple steps from the Food Safety and Inspection Service to help Georgians put that “spring cleaning” to good use in the kitchen. Take a couple hours some Saturday morning to wipe down any of those unnoticed spills that could have left behind a few lingering odors, and always keep in mind these important food safety tips:
Clean: Bacteria are rapidly transferred, especially in the kitchen; frequent cleaning can prevent that by washing hands, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after food preparation. Add one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water for sanitization on surface areas.
Keep your refrigerator clean at all times, wiping up spills and cleaning surfaces thoroughly (both inside and out). To eliminate any unwanted odors, be sure to wash and sanitize the shelves, crispers, ice trays, doors and gasket. Once you’ve emptied the refrigerator to thoroughly clean it, leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow air to circulate before putting food back in.
Separate: Cross-contamination, or spreading of bacteria, commonly happens when thawing and preparing raw meat, poultry or seafood. Bacteria can become active once thawed and cause illness if food is not handled safely. Store thawing products in a container or on a plate in the refrigerator (never on the counter) so juices can’t drip.
During preparation, use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for ready-to-eat foods. Wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use. Remember nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher but laminated boards may crack or split.
“Consider taking each annual spring cleaning as an opportunity to replace any cutting boards that have become overly worn down,” Commissioner Black suggested. Look at replacing any boards with deep grooves or cracks in particular, because the space can allow bacteria growth.
Cook: Even for experienced cooks, improper heating and preparation of food means illness-causing bacteria can survive. Meat, poultry and seafood should be cooked to the proper internal temperature to be sure bacteria are destroyed – and visually looking at the meat is not necessarily accurate. Cuts of beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, pork and ground beef to 160 degrees and poultry to 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to make sure food has reached the optimum temperature. If reheating or microwaving a meal, stir, rotate the dish and cover food to prevent cold spots where bacteria can survive.
Chill: Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, so chilling food properly is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food borne illness.
“After you clean out your fridge this spring, place an appliance thermometer inside overnight to make sure the temperature reaches – and remains at – 40 degrees or below,” Commissioner Black said. “Make it a habit to go through your refrigerated items once every week to toss out anything perishable.”
The general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage is four days for cooked leftovers, three to five days for raw steaks, roasts and chops of red meat and one or two days for raw poultry, ground meats and fish. Chill leftovers and takeout foods within two hours, making sure to divide food into shallow containers for rapid cooling; thaw meat, poultry and seafood in the fridge (not on the counter), and don’t overstuff your refrigerator because it will cause the temperature inside to rise.
Consumers can “follow” the Georgia Department of Agriculture on Twitter @GDAFoodSafety for the most up-to-date information on food recalls and other food safety news.
The United States Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry hotline can answer additional questions about spring cleaning your kitchen to help keep food safe year-round. Contact them Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. EST at 1-888-MPHotline, or “Ask Karen” a question online for all kinds of important information relating to food safety.