Buy and store, prep and cook

You can’t tell by looking at food whether it’s safe to eat. The fact is bacteria that cause foodborne illness aren’t the same as those that cause spoliage.

To store your food right:

  • Store your goods at the right temperature and for the right length of time. Use up leftovers stored in the fridge within four days.
  • Label and date your leftovers.
  • Store all meat below 40 F (4 C).
  • Don’t reuse sandwich bags. They’re very hard to clean and when reused, pose a cross-contamination risk from whatever was first stored in them.
  • The faster you cool food after you cook it, the faster it will be out of the range of ideal bacteria growth. Transfer leftovers to shallow containers to allow for faster cooling.
  • Take meat off the bone to store so it will cool faster.
  • When freezing store bought meat, remove them from plastic foam packaging, rewrap them in plastic freezer bags and squeeze out any air before sealing the bag.

Choosing your food carefully is also imperative.

When at the market:
  • At the meat or deli counter pay attention to the people serving you and their work area. Is it can? Are they clean? Are they wearing gloves? If things look dirty or smell, go somewhere else.
  • Pack your meat with the frozen foods. This will keep the meat cold on the way home.
  • Separate meat and seafood from the produce in your cart or basket to avoid cross-contamination.
Next page: Cooking rightMany believe that once a food is cook, it’s safe. The fact is cooked food can be contaminated when it comes in contact with non-cooked foods.

Cooking right
  • Always use a meat thermometer to know when your meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check the accuracy of your thermometer, put it in slushy ice: it should read 32 F or 0 C.
  • Clean your thermometer between food checks.
  • Never put cooked meat back on the tray that held raw meat.
  • Boil marinades before reusing them.
  • Cook leftovers until they are steaming hot to make sure bacteria has been killed.
  • If you’re cooking anything from frozen, adjust the cooking times to include thawing time. To avoid undercooking, a good rule of thumb is to increase the cooking time by 50 per cent.
  • When barbecuing chicken, unwrap it in the sink, throw away all the papers and plastic immediately, put the chicken on the barbecue and wash everything it has touched with a chlorine-based cleanser. Be sure to wash the tongs used to put it on barbecue; once the chicken is cooked, you don’t want to re-contaminate it by using unwashed tongs to lift it out.
  • When cooking with a microwave, ensure even and thorough cooking by stirring or turning the food halfway through the cooking time.

A turkey tip
Don’t half-cook your turkey, then take it to a big family gathering. Either cook it thoroughly beforehand or wait and cook it when you arrive. Travelling with a partially cooked turkey puts it in the danger zone for bacteria growth — between 40 F (4 C) and 140 F (60 C) — for a long period of time. You’ve set the bacteria up in a perfect breeding ground — with moisture, warmth and a source of food.

In the kitchen
  • The most important advice is to wash your hands before, during and after cooking.
  • Invest in two different-coloured cutting boards, one for foods that won’t be cooked and one for foods that will be, to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Clean your sink, dishcloths, countertops and cutting board regularly with bleach and water. These surfaces are all breeding grounds for bacteria. Bleach or chlorine-based cleaners are the most effective germ killers.