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Food Safety for Your Family

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You read labels, buy fresh foods, and do your best to prepare tasty meals for your family. But one thing that might not cross your mind as you cook is food safety.

Why is food safety so important? Proper food preparation protects against foodborne illnesses from bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria (which can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration).

Safety precautions include knowing how to select foods in the grocery store, then storing them properly and cooking them safely, plus cleaning up well afterward.

Here's how to make sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe.

Buying Food

Buying safe food is the first step. To ensure freshness, refrigerated items (such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish) should be put in your cart last. Keep meats separate from other items, especially produce. If your drive home is longer than 1 hour, consider putting these items in a cooler to keep them fresh.

When purchasing packaged meat, poultry, or fish, check the expiration date on the label. Even if the expiration date is still acceptable, don't buy fish or meats that smell or look strange.

Also check inside egg cartons — make sure the eggs, which should be grade A or AA, are clean and free from cracks.

Don't buy:

Refrigerating and Freezing

Before you put the groceries away, check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. Your refrigerator should be set for 40ºF (5ºC) and your freezer should be set to 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower. These chilly temperatures will help keep any bacteria in your foods from multiplying. If your refrigerator doesn't have a thermostat, it's a good idea to invest in a thermometer for the fridge and freezer.

Of course, refrigerated and frozen items should be put away first. Here are some quick tips to remember for foods that need to be kept cool:

Follow these handling and cooking guidelines to help prevent foodborne illnesses in your family:

Preparing and Cooking Fruits and Vegetables

Preparing and Cooking Raw Meat, Poultry, Fish, and Egg Products

Use a meat thermometer to tell whether meats are cooked thoroughly. (Place the thermometer in the thickest portion of the meat and away from bones or fat and wash the probe between uses.) Most thermometers indicate at which temperature the type of meat is safely cooked, or you can refer to these recommendations:

When cooking, broiling, or grilling meats on the stove, turn them over at least once. In the microwave, cover all meats and:

Cleaning Up

Clean food is just one part of the food safety equation. You also need to be sure that your kitchen surfaces and your hands are clean to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Taking these simple precautions can reduce the chance of foodborne illnesses in your family.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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