Some of the questions we hear most frequently at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline include “Is food safe if left out overnight?” and “Should I wash chicken before cooking it?” We know people aren’t sitting at a computer when these questions occur, and they often need the answers right away.
Just in time for summer grilling season—one of the busiest times of year for the Hotline—I’m happy to announce that our virtual food safety representative, Ask Karen, is now available in mobile format. That means you can access Karen's extensive knowledge base about safely handling, cooking, and storing food directly from your smart phone, anywhere and anytime your phone can access the Internet.
Mobile Ask Karen has all the same features as Ask Karen on your computer. Only now, she can answer your food safety questions at the grocery store, in your kitchen, or at your barbecue grill. Hopefully, by sending Karen out to picnics, farmers markets, and backyard cookouts via people’s smart phones, she’ll be able to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses that usually increase in the summer months.
Using your iOS (iPhone and iPad) or Android device, you can chat live with a food safety expert on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, and the web-based app provides the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline number (1-888-MPHotline) in case you want to speak to someone directly.
If it’s midnight, however, and you’re not sure if you should snack on the pizza that’s been sitting on your countertop since dinnertime, the Ask Karen database is available 24/7 and has the answers to nearly 1,500 food safety questions. Chances are, someone else has faced a similar dilemma, and a solution can be found by searching for a few keywords.
Just like we try to do with this blog, government food safety agencies are trying to get as much food safety advice to the public as we can. Knowing how much time everyone (we do it too!) spends on their smart phones, it only makes sense that Ask Karen should be available from such a widely used tool.
Take Karen with you! To start using Mobile Ask Karen now, go to m.AskKaren.gov, or scan the QR code into your iOS or Android-powered device:
Spring has long been the time of year for annual spring cleaning projects around the home. When it comes to safe food handling, however, everything that comes in contact with food must be kept clean all year long — including the refrigerator.
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 exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water, and the foods we eat. When they have nutrients (food), moisture, and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness.
- 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 protect most foods.
- Appliance thermometers for refrigerators are specifically designed to provide accuracy at cold temperatures and can be purchased at the local hardware store.
Keep it clean
- If your office doesn’t already have a schedule for cleaning, why not 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; 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 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.
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 foodborne illness.
- Post this blog on the office refrigerator. Maybe your coworkers will get the hint.
Share your tips with us
Do you have tips for sharing the responsibility and keeping the office refrigerator clean? If so, please click Add a Comment and share your tips with us.
If you have questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English and Spanish).
When we think of special foods for spring, we often think of eggs. Unfortunately, thanks to last summer’s egg recall, when we think of eggs, we may also think of food illnesses such as Salmonella.
To avoid food poisoning, you must take special care when handling and preparing fresh eggs and egg products. Did you know that Salmonella can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal? The larger the number of Salmonella bacteria present in the egg, the more likely the egg is to cause illness.
Shell eggs are safest when stored in the refrigerator, individually and thoroughly cooked, and promptly consumed after cooking. Here are some specific tips to help you and your family reduce the risk of a Salmonella infection from eggs.
Refrigerate Eggs Promptly
- Keeping eggs adequately refrigerated prevents any Salmonella in the eggs from growing to higher numbers. Keep eggs refrigerated at ≤ 40° F (≤4° C) until they are needed. Buy eggs only from stores or other suppliers that keep them refrigerated.
- Refrigerate unused eggs or leftovers that contain eggs promptly.
- Wash hands and all food contact surface areas (counter tops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards) with soap and water after contact with raw eggs. Then disinfect the food contact surfaces using a sanitizing agent, such as bleach, following label instructions.
- Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
Cook Eggs Thoroughly
Cooking reduces the number of bacteria present in an egg; however, a lightly cooked egg with a runny egg white or yolk still poses a greater risk than a thoroughly cooked egg. Lightly cooked egg whites and yolks have both caused outbreaks of Salmonella infections.
- Eggs should be thoroughly cooked until both the yolk and white are firm. Recipes containing eggs mixed with other foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160ºF (71ºC).
- Eat eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature (between 40 to 140ºF) for more than 2 hours.
- For recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs, consider using pasteurized shell eggs. You can buy pasteurized eggs from certain stores and suppliers.
Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or lightly cooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that would result in consumption of raw or lightly cooked eggs. For more details, see Egg Safety and Eating Out.
Protecting Those at Risk
The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may have a more severe illness. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. That’s why consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.