How to Keep Germs Off Food

Food should make you healthy, not sick. If you’re careful how you handle the food you cook, you’ll be much

Food should make you healthy, not sick. If you’re careful how you handle the food you cook, you’ll be much less likely to come down with diarrhea, the “stomach flu,” or worse. Don’t rely on your senses to judge safety—you can’t see germs on food, and a food can smell okay even if it isn’t.

Thaw right. The best option is to defrost items in the fridge overnight. But if you’re in a hurry, put the frozen item in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Otherwise, use the microwave, but be ready to cook the food as soon as it’s thawed. What you should NOT do is leave the food exposed at room temperature as it thaws.

Use a meat thermometer. Poultry should reach 165°F; roast beef, at least 145°F; pork, ground meat, and poultry, 160°F; and casseroles, 165°F. Cooking to those temperature all but guarantees you have killed any unwanted microbes on or in the food.

Plus: How Long Can You Store Meat in a Freezer?

Shop in the right order. Buy nonperishables first, vegetables and fruits next, then meats and poultry, and finally, frozen food.

Take your fridge’s temperature. Pick up an appliance thermometer at the hardware store, and check that the fridge is at 40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below. Above those levels, it becomes easier for microbes to thrive.

Wash, Wash, Wash. E. coli from spinach, salmonella from cantaloupe… is nothing safe? Truth is, most foods are safe. But why take risks? Headlines make it clear that on occasion, germ-filled foods do slip through to the consumer. So whether it’s a bunch of grapes or an orange you plan to slice, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly in running tap water. Remove and toss the outer leaves of lettuce or cabbage. And don’t leave cut produce at room temperature for more than an hour.

Be smart with leftovers. Don’t leave that pot of soup out overnight; once it cools, get it in the refrigerator. And if you aren’t going to eat leftovers within 48 hours, consider freezing them. While germs don’t thrive in the cool temperatures of a refrigerator, they still live and grow, as those funky, moldy veggies in the back of the produce drawer confirm.

Fast-Spoiling Foods

1. Milk

2. Eggs

3. Beef

4. Chicken

5. Fish

6. Shrimp

7. Berries

8. Desserts made with cream

9. Leftover soup

Plus: 13 Commandments of Food Hygiene

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest