By Nicole Jorgensen
Food safety is important every day, and becomes more relevant as the weather warms up. No one wants to become ill after a wonderful day of sailing and feasting. Our social events often have food as a focus and all of you make and bring some of the most delicious foods!
A little known fact is that bad bacteria are always present in and on the foods we eat. It is often at such low levels that our immune system can handle killing it off. However if food is left out for too long the bacteria multiply and may become more than our immune system can handle. When this happens we become ill and can suffer from mild intestinal discomfort, diarrhea, or vomiting. It may last for as little as 24 hours or as long as a few days with symptoms similar to the flu (the 24-hour flu is really a foodborne illness). The onset time can be as short as 6 hours after eating, but most often it is 12, 24, or even 48 hours after the bacteria laden food is eaten. It is not usually the last meal that you ate that made you ill. Why? Because your body was successfully fighting the bad bacteria up until the onset of symptoms, which is when the bad bacteria finally won and you became ill.
Any potentially hazardous food can make you sick if proper temperature controls are not followed. Potentially hazardous foods are foods that require refrigeration, proper cooking, or hot holding. These can be dairy products, deli meats, prepared salads, hard boiled eggs, casseroles and any cooked foods including vegetables, meats, potatoes, rice, and beans. If you buy it in the refrigerator at the store or cook it then it is a potentially hazardous food and needs to be treated as such.
The following summary indicates how to properly handle potentially hazardous foods:
· Chicken and poultry- above 165 F
· Ground beef – 155 F unless you choose
undercooked and assume the risk
· Pork, fish, and eggs – 145 F
· Reheating leftovers that cannot be eaten cold – 165 F
· Cooked foods must stay above 135 F
· Refrigerated foods must remain below 41 degrees Fahrenheit (F)
· The Danger Zone for any potentially hazardous foods is between 41 F and 135 F
Potentially hazardous foods can only remain in the Danger Zone for 4 hours before the bacterial growth rate becomes too high for the food to be safely eaten and the food must be thrown out.
When cooling a large pot of hot food I recommend putting it into smaller metal containers on the counter or in a sink full of ice. Stir often. Once cooled put the food in the refrigerator without a lid on. After the food has reached 41 F you can then cover it. Do not put hot food in the refrigerator as it will warm up all of your milk, eggs, leftovers and deli meats and cause premature spoilage.
The danger zone also applies to food on the serving table or at a potluck. Food can be left out in the Danger Zone of 41 F to 135 F for no more than 4 hours. Yes, only 4 hours! So, after 4 hours of no to poor refrigeration throw the food away. It is not worth getting sick just to keep a few leftovers. You might say that you never get sick, but what about your friends and loved ones? You don’t want to make them sick do you?
If you are handling raw meats it is imperative that the raw meat does not cross contaminate ready to eat foods in your refrigerator or cooler. Also, after handling raw meat wash your hands and all equipment with soap and water for 20 seconds. Mix 1 teaspoon of bleach with one quart of water and put in a spray bottle labeled ‘bleach water’. Spray this on your sink, counter tops, cutting boards, and equipment after washing and let them air dry. The bleach sanitizer will kill the bacteria that remain after washing. I hope that you have learned some new tips about food safety and will use them.
If you have any questions you can always contact me.
-Nicole Jorgensen, SJSC Membership Chair
County of Santa Clara Senior Registered Environmental Health Specialist