Is Food In My Kitchen A Safety Hazard?

By: proctor - June 23, 2008
Leftovers, reheating, cooling...all of these factor in to what is safe to eat versus what may be responsible for a foodborne illness. Click here for tips or keep reading for some quick tips.

Food poisoning is not fun...if in doubt, throw it out! There are a few easy things you can do to extend the life on your leftovers, such as:

1. Use small containers for quick cooling
2. Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
3. Cool air must circulate in the refrigerator to keep food safe. That's why it is important not to pack the refrigerator or to stack the shallow containers.
4. With poultry or other stuffed meats, remove stuffing and refrigerate it in separate contianers.
5. Avoid tasting old leftovers to determine safety.
6. Discard outdated, unsafe or possible unsafe leftovers in a garbage disposal or in tightly wrapped packages that cannot be consumed by people or animals.
7. To reheat, bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165 F.
8. Do not mix leftovers with fresh food portions.

Cool It Right

Improper cooling is one of the most common mistake made in all food-borne illness outbreaks. The two predominate practices are leaving cooked foods at room temperature too long and refrigerating foods in large, deep containers.

The #1 rule is that POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS FOODS SHOULD NOT BE LEFT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE FOR LONGER THAN 2 HOURS. This includes the preparation and serving time. Think about the holiday dinner when the family sits and visits at the table following an enjoyable meal. Calculate the total time the turkey, for example, sits out. Remember to add on the time when you set it out again later in the day for sandwiches and for people to help themselves at their leisure. These conditions have the potential for causing foodborne illness. Get in the habit of refrigerating the necessary foods before the visit so the event can have a happy ending.

There are many things to keep in mind regarding safe refrigeration. Overpacked refrigerators do not cool foods well. There needs to be air circulation, and this is impeded when foods are pressed together and stacked on top of each other. Refrigerators need to be clean. Clean and organize the refrigerator before an event when you will need extra space. Some foods may be placed directly in the freezer for later use when space is limited.

Serious errors can occur when cooling large amounts of food because a large bowl or kettle of potato salad or chili cools very slowly. Adequate cooling of food does not occur automatically when a hot item is taken from the stove, table or preparation area and placed in the refrigerator. However, it can be accomplished by following some guidelines.

When cooling foods, remember:

1. For a cold food, such as potato salad, have all ingredients chilled before mixing.
2. Cut large pieces of meat into smaller pieces.
3. Place foods in shallow containers, not more than 3 to 4 inches deep, the approximate width of an adult's palm.
4. Do not cover foods during the initial cooling because they stay hot longer when the steam and heat are not allowed to escape.
5. Do not stack containers for cooling for the same reason as above.
6. Check the refrigerator temperature to be sure it is at or below 40 F.
7. Set refrigerator temperature at 32 F and freezer temperature below 0 F if you have plans to add large quantities of foods.

More reading...
If you are unsure of some contamination-based vocabulary and what to be in-the-know when reading another article on the subject, glance over this glossary of terms:

Amino Acids: The substances which make up (the building blocks) of proteins.

Bacteria: This is the scientific term for a large group of microorganisms, only some of which produce disease. Many others are active in processes beneficial or not harmful to human, animal and plant life.

Carrier: An individual who harbors an infectious agent in his or her body, and can transmit it to others, but exhibits no symptoms of disease.

Clean: Free of visible soil but not necessarily free of disease-causing microorganisms.

Contamination: The unintended presence of harmful substances or microorganisms, especially in food.

Cross-contamination: The transfer of harmful microorganisms from one food to another by means of a nonfood surface such as utensils, equipment or human hands.

Danger zone: The temperature range between 40 and 140 F (4.4 & 60 C) within which most microorganisms experience their best growth and reproduction.

Disinfectant: An agent that kills the growing forms, but not necessarily the spores, of microorganisms; especially for use on inanimate surfaces.

Foodborne disease: An illness which implicates foods as its source. This includes foods which support the growth of microorganisms as well as those which merely serve as carriers for a microbial agent.

Foodborne illness: Disease or injury occurring as a result of consumption of contaminated food.

Food poisoning: Intoxication or infection caused by consumption of contaminated food.

Germ: Microorganisms, particularly pathogens.

Hazard: To run the risk of; to expose oneself to.

Microorganisms: Forms of life that can be seen only with the aid of a microscope, including bacteria, viruses, yeasts, algae and single-celled animals.

Modified Atmosphere Package: An atmosphere in which most of the oxygen has been replaced with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Mold: A fungus that causes mold.

Pathogen: Any disease-producing agent, usually a living microorganism.

Pathogenic: Capable of producing disease.

Perishable: Food subject to quick decay or spoilage, unless it is kept under proper conditions.

Sanitary: Free of disease-causing microorganisms and other harmful substances.

Shelf life: Length of time a product can be stored and still retain quality and remain safe.

Spore: An inactive, resistant, resting or reproductive body that can produce a new vegetative individual in a favorable environment.

Sterile: Free from all living organisms, especially microorganisms.

Toxic: Poisonous.

Toxin: A poison. Specifically, a poison produced by a living microorganism.

Vacuum packaging: The removal of oxygen from inside a package.

Virus: Any of a large group of infectious agents, lacking independent metabolism and requiring a living host in order to reproduce, consisting of DNA or RNA in a protein shell.

Yeast: Any of various fungi capable of fermenting carbohydrate.

Thanks to North Dakota State University for the research and this article! Hopefully it will save some of us some upset stomachs!

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

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