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Food Handling Tips

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran in the kitchen or you’re a newbie to cooking in general, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your skills. These food handling tips will keep you up-to-date on how to prepare meals, food safety and more. Take these tips with you no matter whose house is hosting the cookout, the family dinner or just breakfast before classes.

1. Wash your hands!

We recommend you wash your hands early and often: Before you begin cooking, after taking packages out of the fridge or pantry, as you transition between working with meat and vegetables, right before eating and—of course—after using the restroom or touching your phone or tablet while in the middle of cooking. Washing your hands is one of the simplest food handling tips that can help prevent the spread of disease and cross-contamination.

2. Clean as you go.

If you’ve ever worked in food service or in a restaurant of any kind, you’ll be familiar with the term “clean as you go.” This means that if you make a mess—no matter how big or small—clean it up as soon as possible rather than waiting until you’re totally finished cooking and eating. Not only does this help prevent cross-contamination, but it also makes it easier on yourself once you are finished up: You’ll have that much less to deal with after you’re full from the meal!

Some good ways to clean as you go:

  • Wash your cutting board and knife as soon as you finish using them, especially after handling raw meat, poultry and/or fish
  • Wipe up crumbs as you see them
  • Throw raw meat scraps and egg shells away immediately and put vegetable scraps in a bowl as you’re cutting up the veggies for easy clean-up. (Bonus tip: If you’re cutting up onions, celery or carrots, freeze the scraps for the next time you make chicken stock!)
  • If you’re baking your meal in the oven, do the dishes while you wait. This is a great time to bring in the kids or your partner to help if they haven’t already!

3. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

The most important aspect of food handling is safety. Remembering to “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold” can help you no matter what you’re cooking or serving: Cold temperatures (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) help prevent harmful bacteria from growing on food and maintaining hot temperatures (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit) prevents the risk of spreading bacteria for up to two hours. Maintaining the hot and cold temperatures can help you avoid the “danger zone” of temperatures. Which leads us to our next tip…

4. Remember the two-hour rule.

The danger zone includes temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The two-hour rule says: Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods and leftovers within two hours, and discard any cooked or perishable foods left at room temperature for longer than two hours.

For example, if you are serving food buffet-style, ensure hot foods remain at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher with the use of chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays. Cold food should remain at 40 degrees or lower with the use of nesting dishes in bowls of ice. If any leftovers remain at room temperature for two hours or more, discard it.

5. Invite the kids to cook as frequently as possible as their age allows.

While it may mean dinner takes a little longer to get on the table, it’s important to teach kids how to cook! Encouraging kids of all ages to be self-sustainable is a valuable lesson they may no longer get in school. Make sure you closely supervise your children, and assign age-appropriate tasks where applicable. Even a three-year-old can stir up a bowl of ingredients or tear lettuce for a salad. This is also a great opportunity for kids to learn about nutrition and even help plan the menu!

We hope you can use all these food handling tips the next time you’re in the kitchen. Be sure to learn your food safety IQ and explore other helpful food safety information!

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