4 Food Safety Tips Every Parent Should Know

May 2015 By: Monica Griffin, MS, RDN, LD Registered Dietitian, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
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All Ages

Monica, it’s time to spring-clean our kitchens! What foods can stay, and what foods should go?
I like to use the “see and smell” rule. “Expiration” and “use by” dates are more of a suggestion than an absolute. For perishable foods, such as fruits, veggies, dairy and meats, pay attention to how the food looks and smells. For items like condiments, it’s best to replace those close to the expiration date—but more for taste, not because you’ll get sick if you eat it. Most foods get moldy, discolored or smell “off” before they will make you sick; therefore, if you “see or smell” something that doesn’t seem right, trash it!

How can we keep our fridge spring-fresh all year?
Would you believe your refrigerator produce compartment is one of the “germiest” spots in the kitchen? It’s true! It can host bacteria that can make you really sick—like Salmonella and Listeria. Refrigerators need to be scrubbed every couple of months with hot, soapy water to keep germs at bay. Also, make sure any spills are cleaned up immediately to avoid cross-contamination.

What about all the food recalls we’ve been hearing about recently? Should we clear those brands from our freezers and pantries?
Anytime there’s a food recall, take it seriously. Check your fridge, freezer and pantry for the offending food and either return it for a refund or discard it immediately.

What if the recalled food looks and smells perfectly fine?
Even if the food looks and smells fine, or if you’ve eaten some and didn’t get sick, it still needs to go. Food-borne illness can lie dormant for weeks—sometimes even months—before you get ill.

How can I avoid getting sick from a recalled food? Is there any particular food I should avoid?
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to avoid food recalls—they can happen anywhere from fast-food restaurants to your favorite organic vegetables. But it’s important to realize that while 48 million Americans (or about one in six) get sick from food-borne disease every year, it’s usually from consuming raw or undercooked food—not from food recalls!

How can we make sure we aren’t consuming raw or undercooked foods? If my steak is well done and my chicken isn’t pink am I safe?
It doesn’t just come down to meats, though it is important to make sure they are thoroughly cooked before serving! We can get sick from fruits, veggies and other foods if they aren’t handled and prepared correctly. Follow these four food safety tips:

  1. Clean. Wash your hands before, during and after food prep, and wash all surfaces and utensils after each use. Wash fruits and veggies under cold running water, but DO NOT rinse meat or poultry—it can spread bacteria around your sink!
  2. Separate. Keep raw meats, poultry and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods in your grocery cart, grocery bags, refrigerator and during food prep. Always use different cutting boards and knives (or wash and sanitize them in between) for raw meats, poultry and eggs, and other foods to avoid cross-contamination!
  3. Cook. Meats must reach a certain temperature to be safe to eat, and you can’t tell if meat is done by sight alone! Buy an inexpensive, quality food thermometer and use it whenever you cook meat. Click here for more information on meat temperatures.
  4. Chill. Don’t leave any food out for more than two hours, and never thaw frozen foods on the counter—always thaw in the refrigerator, submerged in cold water or the microwave. For more information, click here.

Our family loves to picnic! Should we throw out any food we don’t eat? What’s OK to save for later?
A good rule-of-thumb is food has “Two Hour Power.” This means you should discard any food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours—if it’s above 90 degrees outside, that window decreases to one hour. To make food last longer, pack it in a cooler with plenty of ice. At my house, we like to freeze water bottles and throw them in the cooler—then we have ice-cold water when they melt. Just be sure to take a sip out of the water bottle before you freeze it so it doesn’t explode!

Any parting words of advice as we spring-clean our kitchens and get ready for eating during warmer weather?
Just remember: You’re more likely to get food-borne illness because food hasn’t been prepared properly than from a food recall. Be careful with food storage and preparation and you’ll be well on your way to a clean, safe spring with food!

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