Note: We're excited to announce that we're now working with the International Food Information Council Foundation and their excellent website, FoodInsight.org. This blog was originally published there on 09/07/2010.
As a dietitian who previously worked with older adults, I experienced first-hand the importance of safe food handling from the kitchen to the dining room table. And, while it’s certainly true that food safety is important for everyone, older adults need to be especially vigilant in their efforts to practice safe food handling.
The body undergoes several changes as we age, including a weakened immune system and changes in our organs and body systems. As with most illnesses, the body isn’t able to “bounce back” quite as easily as we age – recovery from a foodborne illness can be a lengthy process, and the rate of hospitalization and risk of death in severe cases of foodborne illness can be much greater.
The good news is that there are many actions that older adults (and those who care for them) can take to decrease the risk of foodborne illness. From in-home meal preparation to dining out, here are a few tips to be food safe!
Eating at Home
Follow these four basic steps to food safety:
- Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate: Avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook: Cook foods to proper temperatures.
- Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.
[See The Basics: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill for more resources, including podcasts.]
Food Shopping at the Grocery Store
- Check “Sell-By” dates on all foods and beverages.
- Check for quality and integrity of packaging.
- Place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags and keep separate from uncooked fruits and vegetables and other food items in your shopping cart.
- Be sure to purchase pasteurized dairy products (milk and cheese) and juices.
[For more tips, see our blog and video, “Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness.”]
- Refrigerate your leftovers within two hours after your meal.
- Avoid entrées containing uncooked ingredients, such as eggs or meat.
- Opt to order from a menu rather than choosing the buffet.
[Check out our Egg Safety and Eating Out blog for practical ways to be safe.]
These food safety tips are practical, simple ways you can decrease the risk of foodborne illness for yourself and your loved ones. For more specific guidance, it’s best to contact your physician or health care provider.
No matter your age, food safety is an important cornerstone of a healthful diet. What do you plan to do today to be food safe?
Has this ever happened to you? You are staring at a package of chicken (or perhaps a beef roast, or a pork tenderloin) wondering what to do with it. Whether you decide to grill, roast, or sauté it, marinating will make whatever you are cooking tastier. And, if you follow a few simple rules, you can make sure that your food is safe as well.
The verb "marinate" means to steep food in a marinade. A marinade is a savory acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. The acid in marinades causes meat and poultry tissue to break down. This has a tenderizing effect. The breaking down of the tissue also causes meat and poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier.
Rules for Marinating Safely
- What containers to use: For easy cleanup, use food-safe plastic bags during storage, and discard the bags after marinating. You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers to marinate food.
- Where to marinate: Always marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the counter. If you marinate in container, cover the container during storage in the refrigerator.
- Reusing marinade: Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. If you plan to use some of the marinade as sauce for the cooked food, your best bet is to reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it.
- Storing marinated food: If things get busy and you end up not cooking the chicken, don’t worry! You can store marinated poultry in your refrigerator for two days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days.
- Cook it safely: Be sure to use a food thermometer and cook the meat to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check the Minimum Safe Internal Temperatures Chart to be sure.
You can use an oil and vinegar or Italian-style salad dressing, or make up your own marinade. Mix any good cooking oil with an acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Chop up some fresh herbs or add spices from your pantry. For an Asian marinade, mix soy sauce with oil, chopped onions and garlic.
Let’s say that you’re planning to have boneless skinless chicken breasts for tomorrow night’s dinner. Put it in a plastic zip-top bag (or any food safe container), add the marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow you can cook this chicken any way you wish and it will be juicy and full of flavor.
For more information about marinating, check out these resources:
If you have any questions about marinating, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
The higher you go, the longer it takes food to reach a safe temperature. Whether you live at a high altitude (as do one third of Americans) or vacation there for hiking, camping, or skiing, it’s important to have a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature.
What is high altitude and why does it affect cooking?
Where the elevation is above 3,000 feet, special cooking methods are needed for meat and poultry. The thin air -- less oxygen and atmospheric pressure -- affects both the time and the temperature of most everything that’s cooked. Cooking takes longer because water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures.
So why not just turn up the heat? Turning up the heat will not make food cook faster because liquid cannot exceed its own boiling point. At sea level, water boils at 212 °F, but at an altitude of 7,500 feet, it boils at about 198 °F. Foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook them.
How to keep foods moist
Above 2,500 feet, the atmosphere becomes much drier. Moisture quickly evaporates from everything. For this reason uncovered food will dry out quickly while cooking. Cover foods with a lightly dampened cheesecloth, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.
In general, if you are cooking meat at 325 °F, you should add one-fourth more cooking time. In other words, if you would normally cook a roast for 2 hours at 325 °F, you would need to cook it for a total of 2½ hours at high altitudes.
At high altitudes, moist heating methods yield more juicy and tender meat than oven roasting or broiling. One popular moist heating method is braising: brown food in fat, then cook it, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. In addition, moist heat helps to break down connective tissue, so it can tenderize tougher cuts of meat.
How to keep foods safe
If you’re cooking meat or poultry, use a food thermometer to avoid overcooking (which will result in dry, unappetizing food) and to prevent undercooking (which can result in foodborne illness). A food thermometer is the only way to measure whether food has reached a safe internal temperature.
Insert the food thermometer in the center of the meat away from bone, fat, or gristle. If the food being cooked is irregularly shaped, such as with some roasts and whole poultry, check the temperature in several places.
So, what’s a safe temperature? It depends on the type of food that you’re cooking. Check the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to find out.