Q: How can I tell if a food has gone bad?
A: Wow, the timing is perfect for this question since September is National Food Safety Month. The theme is "Being Food Safe" which seems especially fitting this year since we've had some major foodborne outbreaks that have affected most of us.
Before I answer your question, allow me to offer some easy lessons to keep food safe at home. The four basic safe food handling behaviors - clean, separate, cook and chill - will help ensure that the food we eat is safe.
Clean: Wash hands, utensils and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
Separate: Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked. Use different cutting boards for meat, poultry, seafood and veggies.
Cook: You can't tell it's done by how it looks! Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry have reached a safe minimum internal temperature.
¢ Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees.
¢ Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees.
¢ Egg dishes should be cooked to 160 degrees.
¢ Steaks and roasts should be cooked to 145 degrees.
¢ Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees.
Chill: Chill leftovers and takeout foods within two hours and keep the fridge at 40 degrees or below to keep bacteria from growing.
Now to answer your question, here's some practical information from Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Food Safety Research at the University of California-Davis. First, never taste a food to determine if it has gone bad. Since it's hard to assess food safety by visual cues alone, monitor food temperatures and "keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold." Additionally, "when in doubt, throw it out." Here's some specifics that may be helpful:
Bread: Perform the "squeeze test" on a loaf of bread to determine the freshness of the product. Searching for any visual signs of mold is also helpful in determining if the bread is safe to eat.
Luncheon meat: Consume luncheon meats within seven to 10 days of the date marked on the package. Also, it's best to eat it within 3-5 days of first opening the package.
Dairy products: Consume milk, yogurt and cottage cheese within seven to 10 days of the sell-by date. If hard cheese has developed mold on it, remove the moldy area by cutting a quarter-to a half-inch off beyond the moldy area and use the remaining portion within a few days.
Leftovers: What looks tasty on the surface may be harboring harmful bacteria, so don't judge leftovers solely on appearance. Proper food handling is critical when it comes to leftovers - they should be refrigerated no more than two hours after preparation. Label leftovers with the date before placing them in the frig and eat the leftovers within 3-5 days of that date.
Pre-packaged greens: Check the date on pre-packaged greens and consume by that date. Visually inspect lettuce - be wary of lettuce that appears watery, broken down or has a foul smell.
Frozen foods: Use frozen foods within three months to one year, and use the dates on the food packages as guidance. Also, defrost frozen items in the refrigerator or in the microwave.
Pantry foods: Contrary to popular belief, foods kept in the pantry will not last forever. Inspect the package's integrity, and be wary of dented cans and broken or ripped packaging, both of which should be thrown away immediately.
If you are interested in viewing some videos on this subject, the International Food Information Council Foundation has created the following videos to help you tell when food has gone bad and is no longer safe to eat. Go to http://www.ific.org/videos/askanexpert/bruhn.cfm .
Also, for more specific information on food storage, go to our Web site at www.douglas.ksu.edu and link to the publication on refrigerator/freezer approximate storage times.
Q: Is it too late to sign up for the Cooking 101 class?
A: No, the registration deadline is Sept. 19. To find out more about this eight-week class that is being coordinated and led by the Douglas County Extension Master Food Volunteers, contact Carole Boulton at 842-4429, the Extension Office at 843-7058 or visit our Web site.