I am a friendly neighborhood Kittitas County food inspector, and I know many of us enjoy cooking. It can be relaxing and a great chance to connect with family and friends.
I imagine that food safety is not something everybody thinks about, but it can help keep you safe. As a food inspector, I do a lot of educating on food safety.
Chicken is a prime example of a food that needs special handling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in every 25 packages of chicken at the grocery store is contaminated with salmonella, which can make you sick.
The first step to safety is keeping the chicken cold. How cold? Under 41 degrees in the fridge. You can verify this at the local grocery store. Each fridge should have a thermometer you can check. Keeping it cool helps prevent germs from multiplying.
Next, wash your hands before and after handling the chicken during prep. Some people believe in cleaning chicken in the sink, but that can contaminate the sink. Instead, use a cutting board and then thoroughly clean it and your hands with soap after handling the chicken.
Finally, we get to cooking. Making sure you get the correct temperature can be tough. Our eyes and nose are quite adept, but a meat thermometer can help with safety and taste. The temperature of the chicken should reach 165 degrees throughout.
Now, let’s say you cook too much to eat at once. How long can you save it? Let’s look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the meat experts: “Eat within three to four days, either cold or reheated to 165°F”. A restaurant is allowed to hold, sell or consume food within seven days of opening it. At home, three to four days is very good because we might have barehand contact and not wash our hands first, or we might leave the food out for longer than four hours. In a restaurant, they will use gloves and ensure the food stays cool while they prep.
Foodborne illness can happen in non-meat products, too. The key is washing your hands, washing your utensils and cooking wares, and washing your food. Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness and comes from people, passed typically by someone who inadequately washed their hands before handling food.
As a final reminder, during an inspection, we ask if everyone has a Food Worker’s Card. All restaurant staff members need that to ensure everyone knows about food safety, such as keeping the fridge 41 degrees and under, keeping the freezer frozen, keeping hot food at 135 degrees, and if it’s room temperature, throw it away after four hours.
Knowing about safe temperatures, barehand contact and proper handling are skills we use during food inspections and skills you can use at home to keep yourself and your family safe.