Food Safety Essentials

Provided by Kristen Keith, Meals on Wheels Dietetic Intern
The University of Texas at San Antonio

Food Safety

Every second of every day we are in contact with bacteria. From the surface of your skin to the dishes in your cabinet, these microscopic pathogens, or germs, can be found on anything at any time. 96% of these microorganisms do not cause harm (they are benign), and only 4% cause illness1.

Prevention is key. Through food safety, we can strategically avoid or kill certain bacteria that have been identified as unsafe. The meals being served and delivered from Meals on Wheels are prepared by knowledgeable staff members trained in food safety procedures, but once it reaches your home, we cannot safeguard it from harmful pathogens.

Think of your mouth as a door, your body as the house, and the harmful bacteria are the invaders. Don’t let anyone in but your friends and family! (Aka, the good bacteria).

I have included tips pertaining to the three areas most associated with foodborne illness. These are personal hygiene, cross-contamination, and the time and temperature of the food1.

Personal Hygiene:

Maintaining good hygiene practices prevent the spread of bacteria from our bodies, clothes, hair, and jewelry. Through the practices outlined below, your food can be safer to eat.
Hand Washing

  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds1. (singing the “Happy Birthday” song will usually be sufficient)
  • Follow hand-washing procedure before preparing food, after using the restroom, between tasks, after touching raw meat or eggs, and after touching doorknobs, countertops, or other surfaces that are in consistent use1.
  • Refrain from touching your face and hair1. (If needed, wash your hands afterward)
  • Pull back hair to minimize contamination
  • Avoid wearing jewelry that may contaminate or get lost in your food1

Cross-Contamination:

This type of contamination refers to the unnecessary mixing and transfer of bacteria from food to food. This component of food safety is a great tool for minimizing this spread of microorganisms.
Cutting Board

  • Separate fresh produce from meats, poultry, and eggs when preparing
  • Using color-coded cutting boards helps to eliminate the transfer of bacteria from each food to the other
  • Thoroughly wash utensils with hot soapy water before using them on another food product

Time and Temperature Control:

Controlling the temperature of food is a critical component of keeping our food safe. We can minimize the bacterial growth on our meals and food products by maintaining the correct temperature2. Meals from Meals on Wheels need to be consumed upon delivery or frozen immediately. When food enters unsafe temperatures, the bacteria have a chance to rapidly multiple; we can prevent their success by keeping our food in safe temperatures.
thermometer

  • Be aware of the temperature danger zone as 41 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Farheheit2. This is when the bacteria on your food multiple the fastest.
  • If not immediately eating your meal from Meals on Wheels, freeze immediately to deter bacterial growth
  • Reheat meals until thoroughly heated through (minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit)3
  • Discard any meals or food items that are spoiled, past the expiration date, or meals have been left out of the freezer or refrigerator for 2 hours
References:
  1. Brown, A. (2014).Understanding food: principles and preparation. Nelson Education.
  2. Payne-Palacio, J., Theis, M., & Payne-Palacio, J. (2012).Foodservice management. Pearson Prentice Hall,.
  3. Heating and Storing Your Food. Retrived from: http://mealsonwheelssolano.org/meal-programs/menu/heating-and-storing-your-food/
Photo Credit:
  1. Hand Washing 101: http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/cleansing/basics/hand-washing.htm
  2. Tag: avoid cross contamination for meat: https://infotravel.com/avoid-cross-contamination-for-meat/
  3. https://www.amazon.com/Taylor-Precision-Products-Classic-Thermometer/dp/B00004XSC4
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