Celebrate Food Safety Education Month to help keep your family safe

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer ServicesSeptember is Food Safety Education Month and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages the public to follow four safety guidelines to prevent food borne illnesses. Those guideline are cleanliness, thorough cooking, proper temperature control and separation of raw and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.

Everything that comes in contact with food needs to be as clean as possible, including dishes, cutting boards and utensils. Hands are no exception as they are the number one vehicle for contamination. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing food and during preparation if you handle raw meat, fish or eggs. Hand sanitizers aren’t the perfect replacement for thorough hand washing, but they are the next best choice if running water is not available.

The cooking process is an important element in food safety as it kills disease causing microorganisms. Cook foods, especially meats and casseroles, until the internal temperature reaches the recommended level as shown on a food thermometer. A safe food temperature chart is available at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/dandf-cooking-temps.pdf. Internal cooking temperature is extremely important when grilling since charcoal or wood grills can cook unevenly.

Bacteria tends to grow well in the temperature danger zone between 41° Fahrenheit and 135° Fahrenheit. To keep foods safe for consumption, maintain cold foods below 41° F and hot foods above 135° F. When serving food, don’t leave perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours. In warmer weather and when outdoors, reduce the amount of time food is not refrigerated.

Finally, don’t cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs and their juices away from other food, even if it means using two coolers. Separation prevents bacteria on raw food from contaminating cooked foods. After cutting raw meats, wash cutting boards, utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water.

Make food safety an essential ingredient every time you shop, prepare, cook or store food and take extra precautions when eating outdoors.  Find more information on each of the aforementioned food safety guides and additional food safety information at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/food-food-safety.shtml.

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