10 reasons to handle food carefully

April 15, 1997|By Lynn F. Little

Number 10: Safe food handling practices are the ones most likely to preserve food's top quality.

Keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold inhibits growth of the microorganisms that can spoil your food or make you ill. Storage at the proper temperature retains the fresh appearance, pleasant aroma, and agreeable texture that contribute to an enjoyable dining experience.

Number nine: Safe food handling lets you obtain the full nutritional benefits from the food you have chosen.

If you've taken the time to carefully select a variety of healthful foods, use them or preserve them for long-term storage while nutrient levels are at their peak. Foods that must be discarded due to decay or temperature abuse nourishes no one.

Number eight: The safest ways to handle food are usually the most efficient.

Don't take chances in the name of saving time. Thawing meat and poultry products at room temperature and partial cooking are examples of practices that can seem like good ideas but actually may encourage bacterial growth by keeping food in the "danger zone" (40 to 140 degrees) where bacteria multiply fastest. In the case of bacteria that produce heat-resistant toxins, this becomes a problem that further cooking can't fix.


Number seven: Safe food handling is easy. You can set a good example for others, including your children.

You are the last person to handle your food before it is eaten. You may be the last person to handle food before it is served to your family or friends. Take charge. Prevention of illness may be as simple as washing your hands, an often neglected but very important act.

Number six: Safe food handling inspires confidence and keeps peace in the family.

Imagine no more family feuds because someone handled dinner in a questionable manner.

Number five: Safe food handling can enhance your standing in the community.

Food for a concession stand, bake sale or church supper must be prepared carefully. Many of those in your community are very young, elderly or suffering from health problems that affect the immune system. These folks are at an increased risk for food-borne illness. Protect their health and the reputation of your organization.

Number four: Safe food handling is the responsible thing to do.

Those for whom you prepare food deserve the best, and you expect no less from those who produce and prepare food for you. You are no less important than the manufacturer, the government regulator or grocer in assuring food safety. You are an important link in the farm-to-table chain.

Number three: Safe food handling saves money.

Food-borne illness costs billions each year in health-care costs and lost wages. It is hard to throw away food, but compare the cost of the food to the cost of a bad case of food poisoning, starting with the doctor's bill.

Number two: By handling food safely you will spare you and your family from a painful bout of illness.

Bacterial, parasitic or viral illness caused by food is no fun and can have long-term consequences. Microscopic organisms always have been and always will be an important part of our world. We must store food properly, cook it thoroughly, and keep our hands and work areas clean. Sometimes what you can't see can hurt you.

Number one: The most important reason to handle food safely is it might save a life.

Safe food handling really does make a difference. Where do you start? Learn more, read more, ask questions. Call Cooperative Extension Service, Washington County office at 791-1504 for information. You also can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 for answers to food safety questions.

Lynn F. Little is an extension agent, home economics, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland.

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