Food takes up a massive part of our daily lives. On average, a person eats about 1,500 calories a day. People need food to survive, so hygiene matters a lot when preparing and cooking meals.
Whether you live alone or with others, food safety is a must at home. This goes beyond washing hands and using clean dishes and utensils during food preparation. Every station your food travels to, from the store to your plate, must be well-kept and clean.
Even if you’ve been a home cook for years, it won’t hurt to get a quick refresher course on food safety now and then. You never know if you’ve been taking dangerous shortcuts on storage and preparation that could result in someone at home getting sick.
Read on to learn some essential tips and practices to ensure your home-cooked meals are safe to consume every time.
- Buying Good Quality Food
Excellent meals call for great ingredients. However, good quality food doesn’t need to be expensive. Most of the time, they only need to be clean and fresh. It takes some skill and experience to discern items in a supermarket. With patience, though, you’ll spot quality ingredients effortlessly.
As a general rule, avoid buying food that’s:
- Unsealed (if it’s sealed when sold)
- Rotten or expired
- Dirty or cracked (e.g., eggs)
- Discolored or with broken skin (e.g., fruits)
- Smells rancid or looks strange (e.g., meat, fish)
Supermarkets always do their best to display and sell clean food, but sometimes, foreign objects can slip past the radars of quality control. You might see stray hair strands or dust particles on fruits or vegetables from time to time. Check out www.tdipacksys.com/blog/food-contamination-3-most-common-types/ to know the familiar sources of contamination in food.
If the drive from the supermarket to your home takes about an hour or more, try storing your raw meats, fruits, and vegetables in a cooler or insulated container. You’ll need to keep ingredients as fresh as possible, especially during summer when food can spoil faster.
2. Know Where Your Food Comes From
Part of food safety is knowing the source of your food. While buying groceries, you might figure this out, but sometimes the labels don’t tell you the truth. If you can, find out who produced your fruits, veggies, and meats. Avoid food that was sprayed with pesticides or given antibiotics. These additives can cause internal damage to your body if consumed.
It’s recommended that you purchase organic produce as these are less likely to have pesticide residue. Some examples of fresh produce with organically grown versions you can buy are:
- Bell peppers
- Hot peppers
Meanwhile, there also exists fresh produce that has low pesticide residue. You can buy non-organic versions of these like:
- Sweet peas
- Sweet corn
- Sweet potatoes
After buying all your produce, don’t forget to run clean water over them in the sink to rid them of any hidden dirt and grime. Your raw meats don’t need any cleaning. All you need to do is store them in the fridge.
3. Storing And Refrigerating
Freshness is a sign that your food is clean and free of insects or pesticides. One way to keep food fresh for a long time is to store it properly. Invest in a high-quality refrigerator and set the temperature to 40°F while keeping the freezer at 0°F or lower. These temperatures prevent bacteria from multiplying.
Don’t dawdle and store your perishable items immediately when you get home. Too many things in the fridge can raise the temperature inside and prevent the cool air from circulating.
To help you on where and how to store food in the fridge, follow this simple guide:
Keep raw meat and fish in the freezer, and don’t take them out unless it’s time to use them.
In the same vein, make sure raw food is stored in sealed or closed separate bags to prevent mixing and touching.
Place raw food underneath cooked food to avoid spillage and contamination.
Unopened packs of processed meats should be in the fridge for about two weeks. Once opened, they have to be eaten within three days to one week.
Eggs should remain in their carton and be placed on a shelf in your fridge.
Ready-to-eat food like leftovers, cheeses, yogurt, and other cooked food can stay on the middle and top shelves.
Before you put away food, make sure to wash and rinse fresh produce first. Wipe clean and sanitize any food item packed in plastic. Likewise, always check if you’ve securely closed the door of your fridge. If left open, outside air can enter and warm up the inside, allowing bacteria to grow.
When storing cooked food, especially rice, make sure to place it in the fridge within one to two hours after eating. Larger cooked meals, like whole chickens and turkeys, can be cut into smaller pieces and put in individual covered containers to maximize space. Generally, you’d also have to eat any leftovers from the fridge within three days to avoid cross-contamination.
Don’t forget about drinks, too. Different beverages have varying shelf lives, so research on how long an opened or unopened drink will last in the fridge. Drinks with fewer artificial ingredients in them might only last two days at most, like homemade horchata.
Food is precious for most people and can sometimes cost a lot of money. You don’t want to throw away any uneaten food just because you’ve forgotten it was in the fridge in the first place. Keep track of your food’s expiration dates. If possible, write it down on the package label with a permanent marker. When in doubt, you could always throw it out.
4. Preparation and Cooking
Storing food properly matters because once cooked, the quality of your ingredients will affect your meals. Healthy eating and living are also dependent on how you prepare your food. It’s not enough to toss food into a hot pan and ensure any lingering bacteria is gone.
Take note of high-risk food. These are more prone to housing bacteria and may cause food poisoning when not cooked correctly. Examples of these are:
- Dairy products
- Raw and cooked meat
- Eggs and egg-based products
- Cooked pasta and rice
- Prepared vegetable or fruit salads
- Processed meats
- Ready-to-eat food
If you live with family members or other people, you’ll need to make sure that these listed food items are cooked well. Young children, seniors, pregnant women, and others with existing or chronic illnesses are vulnerable to the deadly effects of food poisoning.
Avoid leaving frozen food on a counter at room temperature when thawing them. Microwave the food as much as possible to kill any remaining bacteria and to shorten preparation time, too. Once thawed completely, cook the meat or fish right away.
The stove fire must be at 167°F or hotter to cook food properly. You’ll need to cook food like meat and eggs thoroughly to ensure areas aren’t left raw.
If cooking with a microwave, try cutting whole or thick food into smaller chunks. Place the pieces inside microwave-safe containers with a lid or plastic wrap. Doing this traps the steam inside and cooks every area all the way through.
As mentioned, you shouldn’t leave leftovers in the fridge for long periods. You can reheat your leftover meals on the stove or in a microwave, also at 167°F or hotter. Ideally, food is well reheated when it’s steaming hot all over or already boiling.
6. Cleaning Up
After preparing, cooking, and eating your healthy and hearty meals, the last critical step in food safety at home is to clean up. It’s pretty basic, but some people might be doing it wrong.
One rule you have to follow in the kitchen is to clean as you go. Done chopping up veggies? Toss unused parts in the trash. Finished cooking? Transfer the pots and pans to the sink. Wash the dishes in warm, soapy water or a dishwasher. Have a stock of paper kitchen towels on standby for easy countertop wiping. Replace dish towels as often as possible, especially if you notice the cloth getting dirtier.
While you’re at it, check all your cooking tools if they’re still in good shape. Old and worn-out tools have to be replaced. Overused chopping boards can house small particles of food in the grooves of the wood and serve as a breeding ground for bacteria.
You can check out these small steps to a cleaner kitchen so that every dish you put on the table is safe for anyone to eat.
7. Cook Up A Feast Every Day
A person’s day is never complete without good meals from sunrise until sundown. With more people preferring to cook food at home nowadays, safety has become a priority. No one wants to get an upset stomach right after a perfect lunch after all. By following these tips and practices, you’ll be serving only the best, the cleanest, and the most delicious home-cooked meals.