Don’t Let Bad Bacteria Spring Forward
Spring is back and you know what that means—warmer temperatures. And who likes warmer temperatures in addition to us fun-loving humans? Yes, that’s right, tiny, invisible bacteria. These creatures thrive and multiply unseen in the warmth of the season, and if you aren’t careful, these bad bacteria can spring forward with you and spoil your fun.
Just remember that bacteria have weaknesses. Like other living things, they don’t like extremely cold or extremely hot temperatures.
The growth of spoilage microbes slows, and most bacteria that cause food poisoning stop growing, at 40°F or below. Meanwhile, temperatures above 140°F kill most microbes. This leaves a gap between 40°F and 140°F, called the danger zone, where bacteria grow best. The danger zone temperatures are what you want to avoid, a task that can be more challenging as the weather gets warmer. Never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. If outside and the temperature is above 90°F then food should not be left out for more than an hour. Refrigerate leftovers after you’re through eating and use them within four days.
Does this sound a bit technical? Well, you don’t need a laboratory analysis or food testing kit to know if the foods you are preparing at home are safe. The key things to remember for safe food handling and preparation are the four steps to food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
- Clean: Before preparing any meal, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap and make sure your countertops and other cooking surfaces are clean.
- Separate: Don’t cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are safely cooked to the recommended safe minimum internal temperature.
- Chill: Refrigerate meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within two hours. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping your refrigerator temperature at 40°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
There are various factors, in addition to temperature, that affect BAC growth. If interested, find out more technical information from the USDA at: Fundamental Food Microbiology.