e-Wise Woman: Health tips for women on the go | Issue 2 | Summer 2011

Got Microbes with that Macaroni Salad?


In the U.S. alone, food-borne illness happens to more than 76 million people every year. Characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever, food poisoning, is caused by bacteria that grow on foods and dining surfaces at warm temperatures. Talk about a spoiled weekend. According to the USDA and other food safety experts, here's what you need to know to keep food safe.

Meats

  • Completely thaw meat before grilling so it will cook evenly. Thaw in the refrigerator or in a sealed package in cold water. (You can defrost in the microwave if you're going to grill it immediately.)
  • Keep meat cold until you're ready to grill.
  • Use a meat thermometer for cooking, and follow these guidelines:
    • Fried chicken
      • Hot -- serve and eat one to two hours after cooking or purchasing
      • Cold -- keep below 40°F until serving
    • Poultry -- cook to 165°F
    • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops -- cook to 145°F
    • Hamburger -- cook to 165°F (ground meat has more surface area to grow bacteria)
    • Pork -- cook to 160°F
    • Hot dogs and other pre-cooked meats -- cook to 165°F

Marinating

  • Marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Poultry and cubed meat can be marinated up to two days.
  • Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks can be marinated up to five days.
  • If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat into it.
  • Don't put the cooked food back into an unwashed container or the dish that contained the marinade.

Salads

Mayonnaise-based foods like pasta salad and potato salad need to be kept cold, but surprisingly, it's not because of the mayo. Bacteria don't love the acidic mayonnaise but they love to grow on the eggs, potatoes and other salad ingredients.

  • Keep these foods at 40°F or colder.
  • If you're traveling, put them in waterproof containers, then into an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen packs.
  • Bring an extra serving dish so you can just take out a small amount at a time and keep the rest in the cooler.

Condiments

  • Pack condiments in small containers rather than taking whole jars.
  • Never reuse marinades that have come in contact with raw meat as a condiment.

Fruits

  • You can keep fresh fruits with thick skins, like watermelons, oranges and apples, for days at room temperature. Once you cut them, though, treat them like other perishable foods, and refrigerate or discard if they're not eaten within a couple hours.
  • Melons in particular (like watermelon and cantaloupe) are not acidic, so bacteria can grow on the rind. Wash them before cutting and refrigerate cut melons promptly.

Leftovers

Most times, picnic and barbeque leftovers have been sitting out longer than an hour. They've also been handled by many people -- so toss them.

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