September is Food Safety Education Month. Even though food safety errors that occur during processing and marketing make front page news, food safety is really a responsibility that we all share. Many food safety mistakes occur in consumers' kitchens. They also often run in families. Thinking "we've always done it that way" can jeopardize food safety, health and life itself.
To learn more about frequent food safety mistakes, test your food safety IQ.
Q: Our family usually thaws frozen meat on the counter. That's the best way to do it, isn't it?
A: No. Frozen meat, poultry, and/or fish should be placed in a shallow pan or tray (with a lip) on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to be thawed. Food safety experts also caution consumers about defrosting food outdoors, in the garage or in a basement; they also can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria that may be on food.
If time is short and thawing meat, poultry or fish in a microwave oven is preferred, follow a microwave oven manufacturer's recommendations. Thawing food in a microwave oven begins the cooking process. Therefore, do not thaw in the microwave and then wait several hours before cooking it. When choosing this method of thawing, it's important to complete the cooking process once you start it.
Cool water also can be used to thaw frozen foods, but water should be changed every 30 minutes, or it needs to be thawed under potable running water.
Q: Our family doesn't re-wrap food before freezing it. That's OK, isn't it?
A: Not always. It is OK to freeze food in supermarket wrappers if food will be used within a few days. Re-wrapping (or overwrapping) food in heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic wrap, freezer wrap and/or placing packages inside a plastic bag can protect food quality by preventing undesirable changes in flavor and texture. Label and date packages; use the oldest items first.
Q: What is freezer burn? Are freezer-burned foods safe to eat?
A: Freezer burn occurs when foods are not adequately wrapped for freezing. It is best described as dry spots. Foods that suffer from freezer burn can be eaten, but overall quality will be lower. Trim out freezer-burned portions before or after cooking the food to minimize poor flavor or texture.
Q: Meat juice leaked onto apples and grapes in the same grocery bag. Can I still eat them?
A: Fruits and vegetables that come in contact with juices from raw meat, poultry or fish should be discarded. If juice from raw meat, poultry or fish leaks onto other food products that may not be packaged in moisture-proof packaging (a flour sack is an example), the contents of the damaged package may be contaminated and should be discarded.
To protect food purchases, wrap foods that may leak in an additional plastic bag before placing them in the bottom of the grocery cart or bagging them.
Q: Our family likes to taste-test grapes and other small fruits or berries before buying them. It's OK to taste food in the produce department, isn't it?
A: Tasting food in the store is not recommended. Fresh produce should be washed before eating to remove any potentially harmful bacteria that may be present. Fresh produce also may have been touched by others who didn't purchase it. Unless free samples are offered, produce should be purchased before it is consumed.
Q: Canned foods with dents are OK to buy, right?
A: Minor dents are OK, but canned foods with dents on the seam or edges should not be purchased. They also should be discarded from home kitchens. Other signs of trouble include bulges, leaks, rust or stained labels. Cans with popped tops or expired "use by" dates also should not be purchased or used.
Q: Is it OK to refrigerate leftover food in the same pan that it was cooked in?
A: Transfer leftovers to a shallow (2-inch, for example) pan to speed cooling and facilitate uniform cooling. Leftovers should be covered and refrigerated promptly (within two hours or less, and within one hour when the temperature around the food is 90 degrees or more). If leftovers will not be used in a day or two, they should be wrapped and frozen for a future meal, or discarded.
Leftovers should be reheated thoroughly. Stir to distribute heat, and it is recommended that you check safe-to-eat temperatures (165 degrees for leftovers) with a food thermometer.
Q: Our family likes to store cleaning supplies in the kitchen. It's OK to store food and non-food items in the same cabinet, isn't it?
A: Store food and non-food items (like cleaning supplies) separately. Detergents and other cleaning products, like laundry bleach, cleaners or spot removers can be harmful if inhaled or ingested. Spills can contaminate food stored nearby, and children - or adults, for that matter - can mistake non-food products for edible products. To be safe, store cleaning and other non-food products away from food products in separate cabinets. Flammable products also should be stored away from heat sources. Cleaning and other potentially hazardous products should be stored out of children's reach.
Q: Could you tell me more about the ServSafe class that you are offering soon?
A: Sure. I am offering a one-day ServSafe Manager Certification class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at the K-State Research and Extension Douglas County Office, located on the fairgrounds. This course is intended for all types of food service personnel, both commercial and non-commercial. In this class, participants will learn the principles and practices of food safety in food service establishments. The course content includes food safety hazards, how to provide safe food, the safe food handler, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), keeping food safe from purchasing and receiving through preparation and service, and maintaining sanitary facilities and equipment. This course concludes with an 80-question certification exam. The registration fee for the class is $100 per participant or $65 if you can provide your own ServSafe Book (third edition). For additional information on how to register for the class, contact me at 843-7058.