By: Linda Franco

 
Food safety is an extremely complex topic that a Shaatra can never know enough about. Read on to discover some surprising facts about implementing the proper measures to keep your family safe from food borne illness.
 
Market Principles
Food safety starts at the store. Keep these points in mind whenever shopping:
  • Make a point to always check expiration and “sell by” dates – not just on milk, but on every product from soup to nuts that carries such information.
  • Bruised or damaged fruits can harbor harmful microorganisms, so take a few extra seconds in your selection to avoid the undesirables.
  • Buy cut fruit only if from a refrigerated section and examine carefully for signs of damage.
  • Chopped meat should only be purchased if it is cherry-red, or, if it is vacuum packed, purple-red.
  • Prevent cross contamination (when harmful bacteria goes from foods to hands, cutting boards, utensils, or other surfaces) by packing your meat, poultry and fish separately from other groceries.
  • Add cold poultry, fish, eggs and meat to your cart last, so they stay refrigerated until right before checkout.
  • With the temperature soaring above 90°, make grocery shopping your last errand, and try to refrigerate perishables at the earliest possible time and certainly within no more than one hour.
 
Storage Rules
Proper cold storage is not too difficult with the right tools and rules. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator stays at or below 40° Fahrenheit, as bacteria multiplies much more quickly at higher temperatures. By keeping raw meat, poultry and fish in sealed plastic bags you can also prevent leakage and cross contamination. Label the bags with the date of purchase and if you don’t plan on cooking them within two days, freeze them immediately. When it’s time to cook, ensure to use the item with the oldest date in your freezer first (as long as it’s not too old).
 
Food Prep
Follow the golden rule of always washing your hands before touching food. Gloves are a great idea if you have an infection or a cut. It’s best to use separate cutting boards for meat and for vegetables/fruits. After cutting meat, poultry or fish, wash your cutting board with hot, soapy water. Immediately discard boards that are worn or have deep cuts. Wash all kitchen surfaces that food has touched.
Before eating fresh produce, wash it under cold water to remove dirt and bacteria and discard what appears bruised or damaged.
 
Thawing Done Right
Thawing meat and poultry on the kitchen counter presents several hazards. First, it can lead to cross contamination. Second, as food nears room temperature, bacteria can easily multiply. The fridge is the safest way to thaw food. Storing the food in a sealed plastic bag submerged in cold water will thaw your food more efficiently. Cold water also slows down the growth of potential bacteria. The microwave is another option, but if you defrost meat this way, it must be cooked immediately.
 
Cooking Up a Storm
It is generally safe to eat meat and poultry after it has been heated to a high enough temperature, about 140 degrees, to kill any bacteria. A food thermometer (purchased at kitchenware or hardware stores) is your best bet to ensure this. You can’t tell if food is safe by just looking at it. Clean your food thermometer in hot, soapy water after each use.
When reheating leftovers, aim for about 165°. Leftover gravies and sauces should be brought to a boil before being served.
 
Crock Pots and Hot Plates
Slow cookers are part of the Shabbat tradition for many families. Ensure your slow-cooker maintains a temperature between 170 and 280 degrees, and the hot plate should retain a temperature of 140 degrees. Your crock pot will take some time to reach a safe temperature, so refrigerate all ingredients until you’re ready to prepare, and use unthawed meat and poultry.
 
Stay Cool
With the warm weather upon us, it is especially important to see to it that picnic food is kept at a safe temperature. Prepare cooked foods the night before so that they can be chilled for transport. Pack food from the fridge immediately before leaving home, and insert them into the cooler in reverse order of when they will be served, i.e. the first foods packed should be the last foods eaten. Pack drinks separately to keep the food cooler closed as much as possible. After the picnic, discard any perishable food if the ice has melted or your gel packs have thawed.
 
The Food Police
Unlike fancy presentation and delicious taste, maintaining proper food safety is generally an unseen (and therefore often unappreciated) skill. But its importance can hardly be underestimated, especially when serving children, the elderly or anyone whose immune system may be compromised. So take pride in your rigid food safety measures and keep your family (and guests) healthy and satisfied.
 
Reader Tips:
The USDA offers hotlines which provide a wealth of information about food safety. For meat and poultry dial 888-MP-HOTLINE. For other food products call 888-SAFE-FOOD.
A. N.
 
Try this egg freshness test: place the egg into a bowl of water. An egg that lies on its side is fresh, one that stands up is less fresh, and if it floats to the top it has already gone bad.
Barbara O.
 
Freeze foods in smaller quantities and label them clearly, to avoid defrosting large amounts only to refreeze part of it.
Terry A.
 
Cold Storage Freshness
Product
Refrigerator
Freezer
Salads with Egg, fish or Macaroni
3 to 5 days
 
Hotdogs
1 to 2 Weeks
1 to 2 months
Whole Chicken or Poultry
1 to 2 days
1 year
Chicken or Turkey Pieces
1 to 2 days
9 months
Vegetable or Meat Soups
3 to 4 days
2 to 3 months
Cooked meat or poultry
3 to 4 days
2 to 6 months
Pizza
3 to 4 days
1 to 2 months