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You know what you should do while handling food, but most of us need to improve

A recent report from the Food Safety and Inspection Service and U. S. Department of Agriculture indicates that consumers need to work on improving our food handling practices.
A recent report from the Food Safety and Inspection Service and U. S. Department of Agriculture indicates that consumers need to work on improving our food handling practices. TNS

When it comes to food safety in our home, knowing and doing are often two different things. A recent report from the Food Safety and Inspection Service and U. S. Department of Agriculture indicates that consumers (you and me) need to work on improving our food handling practices.

The problem areas identified included not using a thermometer to check the final cooked temperature of foods, improper handwashing and cross contamination. Let’s look at the importance of each of these from a food safety perspective.

The only sure way to know that meat is properly cooked is to use a thermometer to check the final temperature. Cooking foods to the correct temperature will destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Feel and color of the meat are not indicators that the food has reached the correct temperature. For example, ground meat that is old may prematurely brown during the cooking process appearing done but in reality has not reached the final internal temperature of 160 degrees needed to destroy E. coli bacteria.

While we all know how to wash our hands, test yourself to see if you actually take 20 seconds to wash your hands before handling foods. Using the proper procedure is important too, in order to effectively remove dirt and germs that may be on our hands. Start by wetting your hands with warm water, apply soap and work up a good lather, then scrub away for 10 to 15 seconds, especially between your fingers and back of your hands, then rinse and dry with a paper towel. If you are honest, most times you are probably not taking this amount of time.

Finally, when it comes to cross contamination, most people are pretty good at keeping raw meat separate from foods that are ready to eat in the refrigerator. However, what about touching these foods then touching cabinet or refrigerator door handles, spice containers, faucets or even your phone? The study indicates we do not think as much about preventing cross contamination of these items and as a result, bacteria are easily spread even when we may have not handled raw products.

So during National Food Safety month, do your part to prevent foodborne illness by checking the final cooked temperature of foods with a thermometer, wash hands properly and prevent cross contamination. Just because you have never had a foodborne illness, does not mean it cannot happen.

For more information on food safety visit our website at https://extension.psu.edu/food-safety.

Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.

Sharon McDonald, MEd, RD, LDN, is a food safety educator/specialist at Penn State Extension.
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