Sep 8, 2011

Safe Cooking 101

Healthy food isn't healthy unless it's cooked well. And properly cooked food starts with a clean kitchen and the right utensils. Since I am a self-proclaimed food safety nerd to the point that I am actually "certified" in the topic, I thought a post on the "how to" of safe cooking would be appropriate.

So why should you care about safe cooking? Well, improperly cooked food can lead to food poisoning. Have you ever had a slight (or very intense) stomach-ache after a meal? You could have experienced food poisoning. Symptoms vary based on the type and amount of bacteria, but let's just say they are all unpleasant. Another reason cooking food properly is important is that children, infants, sick individuals or older adults are at greater risk for getting food poisoning because their immune systems aren't as strong. So if you're cooking for these folks, be extra cautious.

Almost any food can become contaminated, but the biggest offenders are meats, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, baked potatoes, tofu, melons, tomatoes (think: salsa!), cooked rice, sprouts and garlic-oil mixtures. I bet a few of those surprised you. Make sure you keep these foods cold in the refrigerator, discard by their expiration date or (for cooked food) about 3 days after they were prepared.

A look at some of the "big offenders"

Here are a few important tips for cooking food well and avoiding food poisoning at home:

1. Wash wash wash your hands. Every time you switch from handling different food products (especially the "big offender" foods listed above), wash your hands in very warm (as hot as you can stand) water for about 15 seconds.

2. Invest in a meat thermometer. They are super cheap and available in most stores that sell cooking supplies. Using a thermometer allows you to test cooked meats to make sure they have reached the right temperature. Be sure to insert the thermometer deep into the largest portion of meat to get an accurate reading. Cooking meats to the proper temperature also prevents overcooking, which makes the texture tough and rubbery. Yuck!

Meet my friend, the meat thermometer. This is getting weird.

3. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. If food has been sitting out for more than 4 hours (allowing it to sit at a luke-warm temperature), throw it away.

This has been brought to you by Tiffany Schulte, Registered Dietitian and food safety nerd :)

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