By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
When it comes to safe food handling everything that comes in contact with food must be kept clean— including the refrigerator and freezer. You probably keep your refrigerator at home clean, but the office refrigerator may be a problem because it’s typically a shared responsibility. Here are some tips that may help.
Keep it at a Safe Temperature — 40 °F or Lower
Refrigeration slows bacterial growth. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the "Danger Zone," some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. A refrigerator set at 40 °F or below will effectively slow the growth of most bacteria. The freezer temperature should be 0° F. Be sure to check your refrigerator and freezer temperatures periodically with appliance thermometers.
Keep it Clean
If your office doesn’t already have a schedule for cleaning, why not start one? Make it a habit to throw out perishable foods left in the refrigerator at least once a week. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage for cooked leftovers is 4 days.
Wipe up spills immediately before they turn into a major cleaning job. Clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water and then rinse.
Refer to the Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer chart for storage guidelines of perishable products in the refrigerator. Print a copy and post on the refrigerator door as a reminder for all who use it. To search for a specific food visit the Food Marketing Institutes’ “Food Keeper” website for more storage guidelines.
To keep the refrigerator smelling fresh and help eliminate odors, place an opened box of baking soda on a shelf. Avoid using solvent cleaning agents, abrasives, and all cleansers that may impart a chemical taste to food or ice cubes, or cause damage to the interior finish of the refrigerator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check storage directions on labels
Many items other than meats, vegetables, and dairy products need to be kept cold. For instance, mayonnaise and ketchup should go in the refrigerator after opening. If you’ve neglected to properly refrigerate something, it’s usually best to throw it out.
- Check expiration dates
If food is past its “use by” date, discard it. If you’re not sure or if the food looks questionable, throw it out.
- Be on alert for spoiled food
Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage. It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest practice is to throw out moldy food.
- Share the responsibility
Do you feel like you are the only one concerned about the cleanliness of the refrigerator? Make it a food safety issue! Not everyone may realize the importance of keeping all food contact surfaces, like the refrigerator, clean. Because bacteria are everywhere, cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food poisoning.
Post this blog on the office refrigerator. Maybe your coworkers will get the hint.
By Diane Van, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
Every year, one in six Americans will fall ill due to some form of food poisoning. Many times it’s the result of not cooking food to the right temperature.
Cook It Safe! with these Four Steps:
Read and Follow Package Cooking Instructions
- Most convenience foods are not ready-to-eat products and must be properly cooked first. Reading the product label and package directions tells you whether the product needs to be thoroughly cooked or simply reheated. Be sure to follow all package instructions for microwaving food, such as covering or stirring the food or allowing a “stand time” between cooking the food and eating. These steps ensure the food is cooked evenly. Skipping these key cooking directions may allow harmful bacteria to survive and lead to foodborne illness.
Know When to Use a Microwave or Conventional Oven
Some pre-prepared products may appear to be fully cooked but actually consist of raw, uncooked product. It may be tempting to cook these foods quickly in a microwave, but doing so may result in unsafe food. Some convenience foods are shaped irregularly and vary in thickness, creating opportunities for uneven cooking. Even microwaves equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots in the product, where harmful bacteria can survive.
It’s important to use the appliance recommended on the food package instructions. The instructions may call for cooking in a conventional oven, microwave, convection oven, or toaster oven. Instructions are set for a specific type of appliance and may not be applicable to all ovens.
Know Your Microwave Wattage Before Microwaving Food
- If your microwave’s wattage is lower than the wattage recommended in the package cooking instructions, it will take longer than the instructions specify to cook the food to a safe internal temperature. The higher the wattage of a microwave oven, the faster it will cook food. If you don't know the wattage of your oven, try looking on the inside of the oven's door, on the serial number plate on the back of the oven, or in the owner's manual. You can also do a "Time-to-Boil" test to estimate the wattage.
Always Use a Food Thermometer to Ensure a Safe Internal Temperature
To be sure food has reached a temperature high enough to kill any bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer and test the food in several places. This applies when cooking in microwaves or any other heat source. For more information, review this chart of safe cooking temperatures.
By Kate Levinson, MPH, MA, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, CDC
After “flowers or chocolate” (hint: both!), the next big Valentine’s Day question isn’t whether to order the heart-shaped pizza (hint: yes!)—it’s whether to go out to a cozy neighborhood restaurant or cuddle up on the couch and eat takeout. No matter where you dine, make sure you celebrate love with a safe meal.
People in the U.S. do a lot of eating out, on Valentine’s Day and the other 364 days of the year. According to the National Restaurant Association, 49 cents of every dollar spent on food was predicted to be spent at restaurants in 2011. Most diners do have a safe meal. However, more than half—59%—of the 13,405 outbreaks of foodborne illness reported in the U.S. between 1998 and 2008 involved food prepared in a restaurant or deli setting, according to CDC.
So whether you’re reserving a corner table at the local hotspot or grabbing takeout on your way home this February 14, make sure to keep you and your valentine safe.
Table for Two
All restaurants are required to follow food safety guidelines set by state and local health departments—but you can also follow these simple steps to keep your food safe.
- When you get to a restaurant, look at how clean things are before you even sit down. Are the glasses, silverware, napkins, and tablecloths clean? Is the floor free of bits of food and debris? If not, consider eating elsewhere. If available, check the results of the restaurant’s latest health inspection.
- Always order your food cooked thoroughly. Remember that foods like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs need to be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria that may be present. When you're served a hot meal, make sure it's served to you piping hot and thoroughly cooked. If it's not, send it back.
- Don't eat undercooked or raw foods, such as raw or undercooked eggs. Undercooked or raw eggs can be a hidden hazard in some foods like Caesar salad, custards, and some sauces. If these foods are made with commercially pasteurized eggs they are safe, but if you are unsure about the ingredients in a particular dish, ask before ordering it.
- Not going to finish that? Get that doggie bag in the fridge—fast. If you will not be arriving home within 2 hours of being served (1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F), it is safer to leave the leftovers at the restaurant. Also, remember that the inside of a car can get very warm so any food left inside may be affected. Bacteria grow rapidly in temperatures above 40°F, so it is always safer to go directly home after a meal and put your leftovers in the refrigerator.
A Quiet Night In
Whether you’re picking up food to eat at home or having food delivered, do the following to keep your food safe.
- Keep HOT Food HOT! Once food is cooked it should be held hot at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Just keeping food warm (between 40°F and 140°F) is not safe. Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the food. A preheated oven, chafing dishes, preheated warming trays, or slow cookers may be used.
- Keep COLD Food COLD! Cold foods must be kept at 40°F or below.
- Follow the Two-hour rule. Throw away all perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles that have been left at room temperature longer than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
- Save it for later—safely. If you plan to eat at a later time, take-out or delivered food should be divided into smaller portions or pieces, placed in shallow containers, and refrigerated.
The Celebration Continues…with Leftovers!
If your romantic dinner is just too big to finish, go ahead and put it in the fridge—but eat it soon, within three to four days. Consult this chart for storage times for the refrigerator and freezer.