The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year one in six Americans will come down with a preventable foodborne illness and 128,000 will be hospitalized because of it. Now, even these numbers do not give the whole picture, because not everybody goes to the doctor after a bad seafood dinner, and even fewer cases get reported as a foodborne illness to the proper regulatory authorities.
Preventing foodborne illnesses at home is as easy as Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. Before, after and even between food preparation tasks, it is always good to clean, sanitize and dry your work surfaces, equipment, utensils, and your hands. Washing and air drying any and all produce just prior to food preparation will ensure that any dirt, residues, and microorganisms that hitched a ride on them are reduced. Separate your foods based on how much cooking needs to take place before they can be eaten. Food items that are ready-to-eat, such as washed produce and deli meats, should be kept towards the top of the fridge. Since they will not receive any cooking time, if they are contaminated by another food that does, there is no chance for that contamination to be reduced via cooking temperature. Food items that require cooking to 145oF such as whole cuts of meat and seafood should come below our RTE foods. Next shelf place foods that require an internal cooking temperature of 155oF such as ground meat, and finally at the bottom should be those foods that require an internal temperature of 165oF to be safe; these include any form of poultry and leftovers.
This separation in the fridge follows the required minimum internal cooking temperature of foods which are most accurately measured by a food-grade metal probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the food. The probe should go deep enough into the food to get an accurate reading while avoiding contact with any bones or cooking dishes. Finally, when the meal is over and it is time to clean up, remember that the quicker you can get your leftovers to below 41oF, the better. This can be efficiently done by dividing large portions into several smaller, shallower portions. This allows heat to dissipate more quickly from the dish. Do not put piping hot leftovers directly into the refrigerator or freezer as this is not an efficient way of cooling food. In fact, this method is more dangerous for the other foods in the refrigerator as that hot dish is more likely to heat up the whole unit quicker than it is to cool down itself.
These rules apply to commercial kitchens as well. However, commercial application can be a bit trickier and does require some training. According the Texas Food Establishment Rules, the legislation that governs commercial food safety in the state, “all food employees shall successfully complete an accredited food handler training course, within 60 days of employment.” If you are interested in working in commercial food production (restaurants, or a business that falls under the Texas Cottage Food Law), a Food Handlers Certification is a must. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Bosque County hosts certification courses several times a year. Upcoming course dates include December 14th and March 7th. These courses will begin at 10am and take place at the Extension office found at 104 S Fuller St, Meridian. This in-person course costs $20 per person, cash and checks are acceptable. To sign up or for more information regarding the course or food safety, please contact County Extension Agent Chris Coon at 254-435-2331 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for a Food Protection Managers Certification, a step up from the Food Handlers course, two classes in the area will take place soon. McLennan County Extension will be holding a two day FPM course on February 3rd and 10th in Waco. Contact Colleen Foleen at 254-757-5180 for more info or to register. Hill County Extension will be holding an FPM course in Hillsboro on March 2nd and 9th. Please contact Karen Jungman at 254-582-4022 for more information or to register.