Guest Blog by Jason Bray, Executive Chef at J Street Food Truck
We all worry about food safety practices and cleanliness when we eat out. What would you do if you discovered that your favorite local eatery received a poor health inspection? Never go back? Always worry about getting sick when eating there?
Keeping Your Food and Your Family Safe
But what about our own home? Are you following the proper procedures? How many safety violations could be lurking in your kitchen?
Making sure that you are handling your food properly can make the greatest impact on food safety in your home. Allowing your food to be in “the danger zone” is inviting foodborne illnesses as an unwanted house guest. When you are preparing food, you must ensure that food is thawed, cooled, and reheated with some simple precautions to keep you and your family safe.
The best practice for thawing is to plan ahead. Thawing your food in the fridge is the safest and most recommended method. Keep in mind, however, this takes time. And what about when your in-laws show up…unexpectedly…AGAIN? Another method, that is not nearly as environmentally friendly, but it will work in a pinch, is to thaw your food by running it under 70 degree or colder water. But what if I am in a hurry, you ask? Can’t I just use hot water? That will make it go faster! NO! Remember the danger zone? Running your food under warm or hot water creates the perfect environment for those bacteria that cause foodborne illness to grow and thrive. A pound of chicken breast can take 45 minutes to an hour to thaw under cool, running water. Still too long? Your last option is to thaw it by cooking it. The best example of this is to put a whole frozen chicken in boiling water to make chicken soup or adding frozen shrimp to your boiling gumbo.
Now that you’ve fed your guests, you have leftovers. What do you do with those? To keep your food out of the danger zone, you need to cool it as rapidly as possible. That means getting it down to 41 degrees in four hours. If you have a large container of food, it’s not going to cool quickly enough if you just throw some foil on it and toss it in the fridge. For large amounts of leftovers (a crockpot full of soup, a large casserole, etc.), divide the food into smaller portions or shallow containers to allow it to cool more rapidly.
Pro-tip: you can make your own ice wand (like the restaurant professionals use)! Get a 16 oz to 1-liter plastic bottle. Take the label off and clean and sanitize it. Then fill it with water and freeze it. When you are ready to put your leftovers away, put the bottle in your food to help it cool from the inside out as well as the outside in. Once your food is cool, rinse the ice wand off and put it back in the freezer for next time. One last option is to add ice cubes to your food, but this is not practical in many cases.
Your in-laws are gone (FINALLY!), and you are too exhausted to cook. Take heed, you have (properly cooled) leftovers in the fridge. HOORAY! And this one is pretty dang simple. All leftovers need to be re-heated to 165 degrees no matter what method of re-heating you are using. That’s it. So, invest in a good food temp probe and stick it in your leftovers to make sure you are at or above 165 and you are good to go!
These three methods listed are the preferred methods. You can defrost in the microwave, it is the same as “cooking from frozen.” You are essentially cooking the food in the microwave.