Bring on summer! That’s when everything tastes a little better, from just-picked fruits and veggies to smoke-kissed foods hot off the grill. But remember: In shorts and tee-shirt weather, following basic food safety practices is a must so that bacteria that can cause illness never get the chance to grow, say experts at Wegmans Food Markets. Below are some simple rules to keep you and your food safe.
RULE #1: KEEP IT CLEAN
Bacteria can spread from hands, to cutting boards, to knives, countertops, dishes, and pots and pans. To keep that from happening, wash hands with warm water and soap for 30 seconds before handling food, and especially when changing from raw meats and seafood to fully cooked or ready to eat foods. Make sure knives and cutting boards are cleaned with warm, soapy water each time you use them to chop or cut food. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water just before eating. Rub firm-skin produce such as melons (or scrub them with a clean brush) under running tap water.
Home chefs who want to keep things extra sanitary can try the new Wegmans Brand Disposable Food Prep Gloves, in a box of 36 for $4.69, or in the Family Pack size of 100 for $5.99. Using gloves when handling raw meat keeps juices from collecting beneath fingernails. The gloves are latex free, phthalate free, and BPA free.
RULE #2: KEEP HOT FOODS HOT AND COLD FOODS COLD
The reason? Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F.
For foods meant to be served cold like salads, raw veggies and dips, or deli meats, leave them in the fridge until serving time, or, if you’re bringing food to a picnic, keep them cold in an insulated bag or cooler. The same is true when purchasing perishable items at the grocery store. If you’re making multiple stops, save the grocery store for last to minimize the amount of time perishable items are exposed to the heat. If you have a long drive home, pack cold and perishable foods in an insulated bag or cooler to prevent spoiling.
For foods meant to be eaten hot – like grilled meats, poultry or fish—cook them first to the right temperature to kill bacteria on the surface and interior, then serve right away. Checking the temperature with an instant-read digital thermometer is the best way to know whether the protein is safely cooked, since you can’t tell just by looking. Here’s a guide for grilling meat with information about cooking it to the right temperature:
Note: If you’re cooking Wegmans irradiated beef, you can cook it the way you like, since irradiation eliminates E. coli.
On warm days, refrigerate leftovers within an hour of serving – don’t leave them on the table or a countertop. If you can’t refrigerate leftovers in this amount of time, better to throw them out rather than risk illness. Another good idea: Verify that your refrigerator is between 32-40°F to keep foods safe – check with a refrigerator thermometer.
RULE #3: SEPARATE FOODS TO AVOID SPREADING BACTERIA
Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices or marinades away from ready-to-eat foods. If you used a plate or platter to bring items to the grill for cooking, don’t use the same plate for serving the cooked foods unless you’ve washed it thoroughly in hot soapy water.
Got questions? The Consumer Affairs group at Wegmans Food Markets is always ready to answer questions about keeping foods safe. Call 1-800-wegmans.