Cooking Safe

When it comes to food safety, the numbers are scarey: Nearly 76 million cases of food-borne illness are reported a year. More than 300,000 people are hospitalized, and 5,000 die, from eating contaminated food.

On Monday, The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, together with Family Circle magazine, presents food safety tips, as well as a quiz from the magazine to help you determine how well you know your way around a safe kitchen.

The good news: Americans have access to the safest food supply in the world. The United States puts a tremendous amount of effort in safeguarding the foods that we eat.

While the number of cases of food-borne illness may seem high, there has actually been a 16 percent decline from 1996 to 2002 in illnesses due to foods. Much of this decline is attributed to the improved systems in place to help prevent contamination in meat and poultry plants in the United States. Everyone (farmers, food manufacturers, transporters, retailers and the consumer) plays a role in keeping the foods that we eat safe.

Food Safety Tips for Kids

  • Always wash your hands before eating. Parents tend to be diligent about this when kids are younger, but you must teach them to get into the habit when they get older.
  • Don't play and eat at the same time. Running around with a Popsicle or sucker, for instance, can be extremely dangerous and increase a child's chance of choking.
  • Pay attention to the size of food. Don't simply slice hot dogs - also cut them down the middle. (A hot dog slice is exactly the same diameter as a child's esophagus.) For younger children, also slice grapes and avoid small, hard candies.
  • Teach your child never to share food with other children. Not only can this spread germs, but you don't know what is in it.
  • When you pack lunches in the morning, put in frozen yogurt or frozen juice. It will thaw by lunchtime and will keep the rest of the lunch cold on those hot summer days. An insulated lunch box is also a good idea.

    Food Tips From Family Circle

    Prof. Joan Salge Blake of Boston University says Americans should assume that their foods are safe. However, they need to make sound decisions about the foods that they eat and buy.

    For example, you should never buy perishable items (such as meat and poultry) that haven't been refrigerated. You wouldn't want to purchase "fresh fish" from a person who is selling it "off the back of a truck." Once at home, you need to store and cook perishables properly.

    If you are buying your foods from a reputable store or restaurant, it is in their best interest to make sure that they are doing everything possible to make sure that their foods are safe. However, once again, consumers need to take the next step and make sure that the foods that they buy are handled properly.

    Take-home meals from the supermarket need to be stored and reheated properly. Take-out dinners from restaurants need to be eaten soon after being purchased, and the leftovers need to be stored properly.

    To eliminate harmful bacteria from fresh fruits and vegetables, you should vigorously wash them under cold running water. The force of the running water helps to wash away some of the bacteria. On sturdy surfaces (such as melon rinds), a vegetable brush can help scrub away bacteria as well as surface dirt.

    Cantaloupe harbors more organisms than other fruits, because of the little ridges in its skin. Also, consumers may be more likely to remember to wash grapes and apples before they eat them, yet may forget to wash their cantaloupes before slicing into them. They often think that because they eat only the inside of the cantaloupe, they don't have to wash the outside.

    Unfortunately, once you slice through the skin, any bacteria on the cantaloupe's skin can be transferred to the knife and then onto the fruit. This is called cross-contamination. You should wash your cantaloupe under running tap water and use a vegetable brush to help scrub into those nooks and crannies on the surface.

    Always use a food thermometer to see when meat is done. Long gone are the days when you can cook with only 20/20 vision. Ground beef can turn brown prematurely, before it has reached a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees. You make enough decisions during the day, so minimize the ones that you have to make when you're cooking. Use a food thermometer to let you know when your dinner is ready and safe to eat!

    Eggs should be stored in the coolest part of the refrigerator, not on the door, which is exposed to more temperature swings. Store them in their original carton and use them within 3 to 5 weeks to enjoy them at their best quality.

    The safest way to defrost food is in the refrigerator. You should never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours - or one hour if it is above 90 degrees in the room. Bacteria multiply most rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees F, also known as the Danger Zone. Room temperature falls within this range.

    Leftovers that have been forgotten overnight should be forgotten for dinner the next night! They were left out in the Danger Zone for too long so they need to be discarded. When at a loss, give it a toss.

    In addition to food, anything can harbor bacteria if you don't keep it clean,
    or use it for anything other than its intended purpose. Your sponge is the worst culprit. It can contain harmful bacteria that are spread around your sink every time you use it. To clean, soak the sponge in a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water.

    Canned goods should be used within a year. High-acid canned foods (such as tomatoes) should be used within 12 to 18 months, while low-acid foods can last as long as 2 to 5 years as long as they are keep in a cool, dry place. Using canned foods within a year is the best for enjoying it at top quality. Canned foods that are bulging, leaking, and badly dented should be discarded, as this can be a sign of spoilage.