Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Handling Your Food.

I've always been a "drink-out-of-the-hose-to-build-immunity" type of girl.  When I was little, I used to swim in the city municipal creek, swallow pool water, make mud pies and eat flowers when told to by other kids... I survived.  I don't believe in hand sanitizer, I love sharing finger foods with others, and we definitely abide by the five second rule in our house.  Even when it comes to cooking, I operate very much by my senses and not by the book.  I'm comfortable doing so (and also still learning), but not everyone may feel the same confidence in their food handling, especially when it comes to the more delicate issues regarding well-fed, happy carnivores.

That's right friends, I'm talking about food-borne illness!  No one wants it- not you, not me, not the 12 house guests coming over later tonight for a lovingly prepared meal.  So listen up and learn a few fun (and safe) tips.  I've sifted through several different articles and cookbooks to come up with a good collection of information on how to store and handle your meats and poultry...

A big thanks to Whole Foods Market for providing so much of this great information:

- Never choose packages that are torn or leaking.
- Do not buy foods past "sell-by" or expiration dates.
- Place raw meat and poultry in plastic bags so meat juices cannot cross-contaminate other foods.
- Place refrigerated or frozen items in your cart just prior to checking out.
- Keep perishable items inside the air-conditioned car-- not in the trunk.
- Drive directly home with your groceries.  If you live farther than 30 minutes away, place perishables in a cooler with ice.

- Unload perishable foods from the car first and immediately refrigerate them.  Place securely wrapped packages of raw meat, poultry, or fish in the meat drawer or coldest section of your refrigerator.
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer.  It should be 40 degrees; the freezer 0 degrees.
- Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and organ meats with 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork within 3-5 days.
- Keep meat and poultry in it's package until just before using.
- If freezing meat and poultry in its original package longer longer than 2 months, over wrap these packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper or plastic freezer bags.
- Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooling.  If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.

- A refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing.  Make sure thawing juices do not drip on other foods. 
- For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold tap water.
- If using a microwave to defrost, cook meat or poultry immediately after thawing.

- Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Sanitize cutting boards often in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.  Wash kitchen towels and cloths often in hot water in washing machine.
- Don't cross-contaminate.  Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food.  After cutting raw meats, wash hands, cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot soapy water. 
- Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

*COOKING* Cook all meats and poultry to the proper internal temperature.
- ground meats 160 F
- ground poultry 165 F
- beef 145 F
- veal and lamb steaks 145 F
- roasts 145 F
- chops 145 F
- all cuts of fresh pork 160 F
- poultry thighs 180 F
- poultry breasts 170 F

- Bacteria that cause food-borne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.  Never leave food out for over 2 hours (only one hour if room temperature is above 90 F).
- When serving buffet food, keep hot food over a heat source and keep cold food on ice.  Keep platters of food refrigerated until time to serve or heat them.
- Carry perishable picnic foods in a cooler with a cold pack or ice.  Set the cooler in the shade and open the lid as little as possible.

- Divide foods into shallow containers for rapid cooling.  Put food directly in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Cut turkey off the bone and refrigerate.  Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole.


I hope that this information proves useful to most of you.  Remember, when purchasing your meats and poultry, pay attention to (or ask your butcher) what the safe handling directions are.  By following these simple steps, not only can you be assured your foods are healthier, you can pretty much rest easy knowing that your foods are going to be better tasting.  Also, be aware of where your meat and poultry are coming from- chances are, if you are questioning the source, you have good reason to.  Find a reliable butcher to ensure that you are buying the best product possible- you'll be happy you did.

Fire up the BBQ and get cooking!  (Summer will be over soon, take advantage :)

*Vintage chicken leg photo courtesy of "I like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" by Amy Sedaris... love it!   


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