With the pandemic spreading worse across the United States, it is becoming more important to stock up on food supplies. Stocking up is considered important because it means you intend to go through the food at some point, instead of hoarding large amounts that will likely go bad before you are able to cook it. Below is a food safety guide that will help you work through the tough times ahead, while remaining safe when it comes to storing and cooking your food!
When you purchase food that is going directly to your freezer, or you are packaging cooked meals for later, ensure that you label the food and put the date on it in some way. What works easiest is usually a freezer bag with a sharpie or marker that is non-erasable. If you are going to freeze something directly before cooking it and you bought in bulk, a best practice is to break the food into smaller portions that will equal a single meal or one with leftovers. This allows more room in the freezer for storage when you break things down in that manner. You should use the first in, first out method as well, making sure you bring the oldest food from your freezer to cook first. This will help to prevent freezer burn or ruining of the food. When freezing the food, ensure you use freezer storage bags, as regular bags will allow for freezer burn to occur, ruining the food you just cooked or bought.
For thawing food out that is either frozen prior to cooking, or cooked and then frozen:
- Refrigerate your food to thaw it. Place frozen food in a cooler or refrigerator keeping its temperature at 41OF or lower.
- Running water can thaw your food as well. Submerge the food in drinkable water at 70OF or lower. The flow of the water should be strong enough to wash loose food bits into the drain.
- Avoid putting your food directly on the sink surface, as this is where a lot of germs reside.
- Recommend keeping food in the sealed container it was stored in (freezer storage bag) and setting the food in the sink, rotating it until it is thawed out and can be separated in the bag easily.
- NEVER let the temperature of the food go above 41OF for longer than 4 hours, including thawing, preparation, and cooling time.
- Microwaving your food to thaw can be a quick way to do it, however it must be cooked in conventional equipment like an oven once it is thawed.
- If you thaw food in the microwave then attempt to store the food again, it is slightly cooking it, then putting it back into a cold environment which can cause botulism.
- Cooking the food is also a way that you can thaw it. This is used for prepared and frozen hamburger patties most often than anything else. This should not be used for pork or poultry items, as it likely will not get cooked through completely.
Once you have your food thawed, the next important thing is preparation and cooking. To make sure you do not get sick, it is critical that you cook your meat to the below temperatures:
165OF for 15 seconds –
- Stuffing made with fish meat or poultry
- Stuffed meat of any kind as well as stuffed pasta
- Steaks/chops for a medium well to well done cook
155OF for 15 seconds –
- Ground or brined meats
- Mechanically tenderized meats
- Ground seafood
- Shell eggs that will be held hot for serving
145OF for 15 seconds –
- Steaks/chops for a rare done cook
- Commercially raised game
145OF for 4 minutes –
135OF (no minimum time) –
- Vegetables, fruits, grains (rice & pasta) and legumes (beans, refried beans)
Once your food is cooked there is a certain process that needs to be followed in order to cool your food down for either refreezing or storage. Maybe you cooked more than you intended, or you planned to cook for future meals, either way the storing of your food is important.
First cool the food from 135OF to 70OF within two hours. If this cannot be accomplished, then you need to reheat your food and then cool it again. If you cool the food within two hours, you can use the extra time to continue cooling it to 41OF. Once it is at 41OF then you can freeze it or store it away in your refrigerator.
When you decide it is time to thaw the food utilize the above methods previously discussed and ensure that you cook it to the correct temperatures.