The worst bacterial culprits on any cook’s least-wanted list includes Salmonella, mainly found in raw or undercooked eggs, meat, poultry, fish and unpasteurized milk. However, there is a veritable rogue’s gallery of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, including Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium botulinum (botulism), Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella and Staphylococcus aureus. Proper food prep can help hold these perps in check.
Here are some tips for keeping food safe during preparation:
Wash your hands often—before, during and after cooking. Bacteria thrive on warm, moist skin. Experts say that more than half of foodborne illnesses can be prevented by thorough hand-washing. Use warm, soapy water, and don’t forget to clean under your fingernails. Rewash your hands after every preparation and cooking step. Cover any cut or sore on your hands with a bandage.
Cover your mouth and nose if you need to cough or sneeze while handling food. Then wash your hands well again.
Make sure utensils, dishes, towels and sponges start out clean. Then rewash them after each use with hot, soapy water.
Use smooth cutting boards made of hard maple or plastic and free of cracks and nicks that can trap bacteria. Avoid boards made of soft, porous material. Wash boards with hot water, soap and a scrub brush. Then sanitize them by running them through the dishwasher or rinsing them in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water. Always wash and sanitize boards between uses. Consider having two boards: one for raw food and one for cooked.
Scrub countertops and other kitchen surfaces with hot, soapy water.Then sanitize them with a solution like that used to clean cutting boards or a commercial sanitizing agent. Clean up spills on appliances and countertops right away. Be extra-careful about wiping up spills and spatters where food is stored and cooked, such as in the refrigerator, freezer and microwave.
Sanitize the kitchen sink drain, disposal and connecting pipe periodically. Food particles can become trapped in the drain and disposal, and bacteria can breed there. Pour down the sink a solution like that used to sanitize cutting boards or a commercial drain-cleaning product.
Wash dirty dishes promptly with hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher. Then let them air-dry.
Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water.Scrub with a brush, if necessary. Remove any soft spots and wilted leaves. Don’t use soap, though, since it leaves a residue on the food.
Wipe the tops of food cans before opening them. This keeps you from introducing dust from the lid into the food.
Keep the juices from raw meat, poultry and fish from touching other foods. Use separate cutting boards, utensils and dishes for raw and cooked food, or wash these items thoroughly between uses.
Marinate meat, poultry and fish in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce for cooked food, make a double batch. Throw out the part used to marinate the meat, and use the rest for sauce.
Cook eggs completely, until both the yolk and the white are firm, not runny. In addition, thoroughly cook stuffing and pasta dishes that contain eggs. Use cooked bases for sauces that contain eggs. Don’t serve any food with raw eggs in it, such as homemade eggnog or mayonnaise.
Use a meat thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking. Insert the thermometer stem in the thickest part of the food.
- meat: in the center of the thickest part, away from bone, fat, and gristle
- poultry: in the inner thigh area near the breast, but not touching bone
- ground meat or poultry: in the thickest part of a meatloaf, or sideways in patties
- casseroles and egg dishes: in the center or thickest part
Cook food to the proper internal temperature. This insures that the inside of the food gets hot enough to kill harmful bacteria.
- beef, veal, lamb, pork: medium 160 degrees F, well-done 170 degrees F
- ground beef, veal, lamb, pork: 160 degrees F
- ham: 160 degrees F
- chicken, turkey (whole, thigh): 180 degrees F
- chicken, turkey (breast): 170 degrees F
- ground chicken, turkey: 165 degrees F
- stuffing (alone or in bird): 165 degrees F
- casseroles, egg dishes: 160 degrees F
Wash the thermometer stem well after each use.
Cook most seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. There are also other ways to judge when fish and shellfish are done.
- fish: Slip the point of a sharp knife into the flesh, and pull aside. The edges should be opaque, and the center should be slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Let cooked fish stand for three to four minutes before serving.
- shrimp, lobster, scallops: Shrimp and lobster should be red, and the flesh should be pearly opaque. Scallops should be milky white or opaque and firm.
- clams, mussels, oysters: The shells open when they’re done. Discard any with shells that remain closed.
Hold hot cooked food at 140 degrees F or above.
Reheat leftover food to 165 degrees F.