February is American Heart Month and a great way to take care of your heart is to eat a heart-healthy diet that is safely prepared. Below are some tips on safe food preparation and storage.
To cook food properly, you need a good food thermometer. This is especially important when cooking various meats. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the following temperatures:
Beef, pork, beef and lamb steaks (roasts and chops): 145F
Beef, pork, beef and lamb (ground): 160F
Egg plate: 160F
Turkey, chicken and duck (whole, chunks and ground): 165F
This is a safe internal temperature to remove bacteria that can be found in dishes containing these foods. When reheating from the refrigerator or freezer they must be brought to 165F internally.
Bacteria grow rapidly between 41-135F. If food is kept at room temperature for more than two hours – or one hour if the room temperature is above 90F – then it should be thrown away. This applies to food served hot or cold. Food should be rapidly cooled to 41F or less. It can be refrigerated in two stages for a total of six hours. Temperatures of 135F and higher should be cooled down to about 70F in two hours and then cooled from 70-41F or less in four hours. To aid cooling, large portions of food should be split into smaller portions for faster cooling.
Food should be stored in food grade storage containers that are safe to freeze if desired. Once properly cooled, leftovers should be covered, wrapped or sealed in an airtight container to prevent bacteria, retain moisture and maintain freshness. Leftovers are usually safe in the refrigerator for seven days or in the freezer for three to four months. Frozen foods can last a very long time in the freezer, but will start to lose moisture and flavor the longer they freeze. The ability to store varies between types of food, so it’s best to do your research before long-term storage.
There are many options for defrosting frozen foods. The safest, but longest, defrosting in the refrigerator. After thawing, the food should be used within three to four days. Thawing under cold running water is faster than refrigerating, but requires more attention and the food is cooked immediately. The quickest way is to defrost the microwave followed by cooking immediately. Reheating can be done without defrosting the food first, but it will take longer than non-frozen foods. It is perfectly safe to refreeze previously frozen food as long as the internal temperature reaches 165F when reheated.
Food safety is an important part of cooking, especially when preparing meals for your loved ones. A little extra time in preparing and storing food goes a long way toward the health and well-being of you and those you cook.
Jenna Massie is an environmental public health specialist with the Cole County Department of Health. He received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Missouri Science and Technology. He is currently conducting inspections of on-site wastewater systems, dining establishments, lodging facilities, and child care facilities for the district.
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