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Food Handling and Safety Tips

Many people believe that they are pretty careful about keeping germs out of their kitchens and handling food properly, but when you actually see people in action in their own kitchens its shocking to see how many errors are actually made. Doctor tom Shuster of Spectrum Consulting was involved in a research study with the University of Utah and he talked about the common mistakes that people make in their kitchens.

Utah State University scientists placed cameras in the kitchens of 100 families in Logan, Utah. The cooks all thought they did a good job with food safety and preparation but the results caught on tape show people doing a lot of things that they shouldn't. People were caught on tape not using soap when they washed their hands and using the same towel to wipe up raw meat juice that they used to dry their hands with.

One person ever made a salad without washing the lettuce. One woman handled raw chicken and then fixed a bottle for her baby without washing her hands. The goal of the study is to improve education and awareness on food preparation and safety since food poisoning strikes 76 million Americans every year.

The Food and Drug Administration funded the study to see just how cooks slip up. Survey shows that most Americans blame restaurants for food borne illnesses but experts say most food poisonings occur at home.

The families that participated in the study received $50 and free groceries. All of their kitchens looked clean but they didn't know the study was on food safety. They were told that researchers were doing market research on how people cooked a special recipe. All of the families were given ingredients for a salad plus either Mexican meat loaf, marinated halibut or herb-breaded chicken breasts with mustard sauce. All of these recipes were designed to catch safety slip-ups and the cameras started rolling as the cooks put away the groceries.

Mistakes were caught right from the start -- only 25% stored raw meat and seafood on the refrigerator's bottom shelf so other food wouldn't get contaminated by dripping juices. Only 45% washed their hands before they started to cook and 16% didn't use soap. You are supposed to wash hands often while cooking, especially AFTER handling raw meat. On average, each cook skipped seven times that they should have washed their hands. Only one third of the cooks consistently used soap, many people just rinsed off their hands and dried them on a dishtowel. People should use paper towels to clean up raw meat juice from kitchen counters or cutting boards. When you use a dishtowel it just spreads germs around. Thirty percent of the people didn't wash the lettuce before they made salad and many of the people place salad ingredients on meat contaminated counters.

After the meals were prepared, scientists checked the finished meal with thermometers and found that 35% of the meat loaf was under cooked; 42% of the chicken was under cooked and 17% of the fish was under cooked. Expert say just because meat isn't pink doesn't mean it got hot enough to kill the bacteria.

About 95% of food borne illnesses can be prevented. Here are some tips that people should keep in mind before leaving the store:

  • Don't let juice from raw meat, poultry, or fish drip on your hands or any fresh foods in grocery cart since raw juices contain bacteria

  • Shop for cold and frozen products last

  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and juice

Once you get home you should keep these things in mind:

  • Wash your hands in hot soapy water before preparing meat, poultry or seafood

  • Cook all meat or poultry at minimum oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Cook meat thoroughly, but don't overcook since too much heat can form carcinogenic compounds

  • Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to check for doneness

    ** beef, lamb, veal roasts, steaks and chops should be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit

    ** ground eef, pork, lamb or veal should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit

    ** ground chicken, turkey or stuffing 165 degrees Fahrenheit

    ** poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees

  • Keep your refrigerator at no more than 40 degrees and your freezer at zero

  • Don't store raw fish in refrigerator for more than 24 hours

  • Raw poultry or ground beef will keep for one to two days

  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not at room temperature

  • Never put cooked food on a plate that was used for raw food

  • To keep bacteria from growing put your sponge in the dishwasher when you run it

"If people would simply wash their hands and clean food surfaces after handling raw meat," says Dr. Shuster. "So many of the errors would be taken care of. That's the biggest thing that people don't do."

Dr. Shuster says the other major concern is the dishtowel. Cross contamination can be eliminated if people don't use dishtowels to dry their hands and wipe off counters. Meat can be far more dangerous than vegetables but its equally important to rinse off both. It gets dangerous when you cross-contaminate to fresh foods that you don't cook. People tend to prepare first, then vegetables, we recommend that people prepare vegetables first then go to the meat then you don't have the problem of cross contamination. Most people just check their meat by cutting it and looking at the color. The color of the meat is not an indication of doneness. It can look done but might not be. It was amazing to see so many people use dishtowels, a lot of people don't want to use paper towels because they think its wasteful but its really an important tip.

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