Many of us prepare and store food on a daily basis - and manage to steer clear of foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning). But are you avoiding trouble by skill or by chance? Brush up on the following tips and rule out some hazards in the kitchen.
Keep pantry items (such as packages of cereal or pasta) in sealed containers on a clean, dry shelf at a temperature of no more than 38ºC (100ºF). Keep the pantry clean and make sure no food spills or sits on the floor. Maintain your fridge temperature below 4ºC (40ºF) and your freezer temperature below -18ºC (0ºF) - this will help avoid spoilage. Place raw meat and fish in a container or generously sized bowl on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that juices cannot spill or drip onto other food. This helps prevent contamination in the fridge. So does regular cleaning of the fridge and freezer.
Storing eggs? Keep them in their original carton and not in the egg tray in the door (which won't keep them cold enough). If you crack an egg by accident, move it to a covered container in the fridge and use it within four days. Otherwise, discard it.
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking, and store them in shallow containers or sealed freezer bags so that the food cools evenly and quickly. You can safely keep leftovers in the fridge for up to four days.
Working with food
Wash your hands! Always wash your hands before and after handling raw food. Using warm water, make sure to lather your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. As well, keep counter-tops and sinks clean and disinfect them regularly. Don't forget to sanitize high-traffic areas such as taps or the refrigerator and oven doors. When slicing and dicing, reserve one cutting board for raw meat and fish only - preferably a plastic one, as it can then be cleaned in the dishwasher. Launder dishcloths and kitchen towels often. And don't forget to wash your can opener every time you use it.
Approach shopping with a strategic plan. With the large size of many supermarkets today, it can often take quite a while to make your way through the aisles. Therefore, select your freezer and refrigerator items last so that they stay as cold (and safe) as possible. Go directly home with your groceries or otherwise use a cooler and ice packs. Once home, remember to put the perishable items away first.
When choosing canned goods, avoid cans that are dented or leaking. Check egg cartons to ensure that all the eggs are clean and intact - never buy eggs that are dirty or cracked - and remember to check the "best before" date.
In general, when looking at "best before" dates, keep in mind that this is the date until which the manufacturer claims that the unopened goods will keep their wholesomeness, taste, and nutritional value provided that the food is stored appropriately. At the same time, given that "best before" dates do not guarantee the safety of the food, use your common sense and discard it if you have any doubts. If the "best before" date has passed, know that the quality of the food may have decreased, and again, use cautious judgment.