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The Importance of Food Safety When Cooking

When we go to a restaurant or buy ingredients from a grocery store, we expect our food to be safe to eat. However, food safety isn’t just a supply chain issue that ends with retailers. Once raw ingredients, fully cooked meals, or leftovers are in your home, you and your family are responsible for preventing contamination.

Food safety, which is the practice of preventing foodborne illnesses, must be your priority whenever you’re handling, preparing, or storing food in your house. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about what’s safe to do when cooking. For example, while you may already know that the five-second rule is a myth, you may not know that raw chicken can go bad in the fridge after two days.

If you’ve never been taught the basics of food safety, this is the place to start. We’ll explain the importance of food safety when cooking, then provide some tips about safe storage, cooking temperatures, and more.

Foodborne Illness Is Serious But Preventable

Foodborne illnesses can be dangerous diseases with the potential to lead to long-term health issues and even death. For example, since salmonella naturally occurs in chicken and eggs  (which means raw cookie dough can be unsafe too), undercooking either ingredient can cause severe infections. Even when you experience fairly minor food poisoning symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, they can still put you out of work for a day.

Committing to food safety practices when cooking is an incredibly simple way to prevent severe health issues. Once you’re confident that your food is safe for consumption, you can benefit from nutrition and the mental health benefits of cooking without worrying about the risks.

Lack of Food Safety Can Have a Financial Impact

When you get sick from foodborne illnesses, a trip to the emergency room can cost you a pretty penny. Any treatment required will cost you even more — and that’s on top of the income loss you’ll have to face if you have no more sick days at work. If you’re constantly feeling sick after eating but don’t know the cause, it’s possible that you’ll need to stay home for several days to track your diet and symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment.

With healthcare prices in the U.S. often in the hundreds or thousands (even with insurance), avoiding food contamination is an easy way to protect your finances.

Basic Guidelines for Food Safety

A good start to keeping you and your family healthy is following these five food safety practices.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination can cause otherwise safe ingredients to become infected with bacteria. When you’re preparing ingredients or storing raw ingredients, keep them separate until you’re ready to cook.

Additionally, commit to washing your hands and surfaces frequently as you’re preparing and cooking food to prevent the spread of bacteria. Wash your hands for 20 seconds before you even start touching any ingredients. Then, whenever you’ve touched raw meats, eggs, or even flour — which can all carry an abundance of germs — wash your hands, surfaces, and knives before touching anything else.

Use a Meat Thermometer

Cooking meat, poultry, and seafood to the right temperatures can help you kill off the bacteria hidden within these ingredients. Rather than assuming your meat is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer to measure its internal temperature before taking it off the stove. It’s generally recommended to cook poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and most other meats and fish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maintain Your Water Quality

Choosing high-quality, fresh ingredients is always key to avoiding the dangers of spoiled food. However, the ingredient that many of us forget is the most basic: water.

If you’re getting low-quality water from your tap, your water could be contaminated with E. coli, parasites, and more. While boiling water usually kills off bacteria, you may not realize how often you use water without heating it up — for example, when you want to water down a salty dish or make a smoothie in your blender.

Using purified, filtered water is always ideal when it comes to food safety.

Store Food in Airtight Containers

Once your meal is cooked or when you bring perishable food home from the store, it should be placed in the fridge within two hours — or ideally, as soon as possible. If you’re not using your ingredients or eating your leftovers soon, the best way to keep your food fresh is by storing it in airtight containers.

If you need to freeze food that you may not get to for a week or more, airtight containers can actually help you prevent freezer burn. Another benefit? This can reduce the spillage of meat juices and other liquids within your fridge and when thawing meats.

Keep Your Family Safe

When you want to keep everyone in your home healthy, you can’t downplay the importance of food safety when cooking. Foodborne illnesses are serious issues that can easily be prevented. Start building your knowledge of basic food safety practices — beginning with the tips we listed above — to avoid contamination and disease.

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