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Serve your family foods that are safe

May 06, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

You can't see them, smell them or taste them, but they can cause sickness and sometimes death in the kitchen.

We're talking, of course, about microorganisms in food.

Food might cause illness if it's been contaminated with microorganisms such as parasites, viruses or bacteria. At the right temperature, in just a few hours, even small amounts of bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels on susceptible foods and cause foodborne illness.

Safety is key. Food needs to be cared for safely from the time it's purchased until it's eaten.

At the store

Food safety starts at the grocery store. Think of the layout of the store and what foods are on your grocery list. Do your shopping so that you pick up perishable items last.

Bag foods, such as raw meats, separately, so drippings can't contaminate other foods. Keep meats separate from fruits and vegetables in your grocery cart.

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Buy packaged, precooked foods only if packaging is clean and secure. Buy products labeled "keep refrigerated" only if they are stored in a refrigerated case. Remember to check the "use by" dates before purchasing any food item.

Avoid damaged containers even if they seem like a good bargain. Damaged containers might contain contaminated food.

Perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours of purchase (or within one hour in hot weather) to keep food poisoning bacteria from multiplying too quickly. If you will not be going directly home after grocery shopping, bring along a cooler to pack your perishable foods on ice until you get home.

At home

Make sure your refrigerator is kept clean and maintains a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees. Store canned goods and other shelf-stable items in a cool, dry place; rotate foods so you use older supplies first. To protect dry foods such as flour, cereals, cornmeal, sugar and dry beans from insects and mice, store them in tightly covered hard plastic, glass or metal containers.

Before handling food, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. You should also wash your hands

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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