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Planning Some Spring Cleaning? A Check List for a Food-Safe Pantry and Refrigerator

Byline: Clara Yuvienco, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: March 7, 2018

The refrigerator and pantry are where most people store their food. But these storage areas may also be one of the less frequently cleaned places in your home, which could be hazardous to your health.

The refrigerator is one of the most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen. Without it, our food would spoil and could make us sick. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature between 34° and 40°F to preserve our foods. Setting the refrigerator temperature too low will cause your refrigerator to work overtime and could also freeze some of your foods. Many of today’s advanced refrigerators have built-in thermostats that measure their internal temperature. If your fridge does not have a built-in thermostat, you should keep an appliance thermometer inside in a visible place to monitor the temperature.

Here are some tips to make your fridge (and your home) more healthy and safe:

  • Clean spills immediately – Clean surfaces thoroughly with warm, soapy water; then rinse. Do not use solvent cleaning agents or abrasives, as these may allow chemical fumes/tastes into your food and ice cubes and make them unsafe to eat.
  • Store leftovers safely – Throw out perishable foods that have spoiled and no longer can be eaten. Leftovers like meatloaf, pizza or casseroles shouldn’t be left in the refrigerator more than four days. Refrigerate raw poultry and ground meats for no more than one to two days.
  • Clean the exterior –Keep your refrigerator free of dust and lint. Clean the condenser coil several times a year with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt, lint or other accumulations to ensure efficiency and maintain proper temperature.

Cleaning your pantry will save you money by keeping you aware of what you have and help you avoid a pantry insect infestation. It will also ensure your foods are safe to consume. Here are some tips for a clean, bug-free pantry:

  • Check your cans – Discard cans that are leaking, rusted, bulging or badly dented. Never use food from cracked jars, jars with loose or bulging lids, or any container that spurts liquid when you open it.
  • Throw out any food you suspect is spoiled – Never taste food to determine its safety. Wipe off sticky containers, along with crumbs and spills on your pantry shelves with all-purpose cleaner, vinegar, or warm soap and water.
  • Check the dates on your foods – “USE by” date indicates that perishable products should be consumed by the date listed on the package or discarded once the date has passed. “BEST if Used By” date informs shoppers that after the specified date, the shelf-stable product is safe to use or consume, but has exceeded the window of its optimal taste or performance. High-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months beyond their listed dates. Low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables can be kept for two to five years beyond their listed dates — if the can remains in good condition and has been stored in a cool, clean and dry place.

If you have questions about storage times for food or beverages, we recommend downloading our smartphone and tablet application, the FoodKeeper. With more than 150,000 downloads for Android and iOS smartphones, the FoodKeeper is quickly establishing itself as the quick reference go-to guide for safe food storage and preparation. A recent update integrated food product recalls into the app. Available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, the FoodKeeper has information on safe storage of leftovers and 500+ different food and drink items.

For more key food safety practices, follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or Facebook. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.


Keep Your Easter Ham and Eggs Pathogen-Free this Year

Byline: Clara Yuvienco, MPH, CHES Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA and Howard Seltzer, Division of Education, Outreach, and Information

Office of Analytics and Outreach, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, HHS

Date: March 21, 2018

If you’re reading this blog, chances are, you enjoy eating ham. After a day of hunting for eggs and chasing the kids around the yard on Easter, it’s time for the family to enjoy that delicious ham they have been waiting for.

Things to know about proper ham preparation

Whether you are cooking a raw ham or preparing a ready-to eat ham product, follow these steps for a ham that is cooked to perfection.

  • Ham that is not ready-to-eat but has the appearance of ready-to-eat products will bear a statement on the label indicating the product needs cooking.
  • Ham that requires cooking before consumption or fresh, raw ham must reach an internal temperature of 145°F (with a three-minute rest time). Set the oven no lower than 325°F. 
  • Cooked canned ham and cooked vacuum-packaged ham, both from federally inspected plants, can be eaten right out of the package. All of these along with spiral-cut cooked ham are safe to eat cold or can be warmed to an internal temperature of 145°F, as they are already fully cooked. For cooked hams that have been repackaged in any other location outside the processing plant, heat to an internal temperature of 165°F, measured with a food thermometer, before you serve it. 

For more background information on the kinds, storage and cooking times for ham, visit Ham and Food Safety.

Egg Safety

Did you know that Salmonella bacteria can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal? The larger the number of Salmonella present in the egg, the more likely the egg is to cause illness.

To enjoy eggs without the risk of getting sick:

  • Store eggs in the refrigerator.
  • Discard any cracked or dirty eggs.
  • Be sure to wash hands and any surfaces (counter tops, utensils or dishes) after contact with raw eggs.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and white are firm. Cooking reduces the number of bacteria in an egg. Lightly cooked egg whites and yolks have both caused outbreaks of Salmonella infections.
  • Recipes containing eggs mixed with other foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160ºF.
  • Eat eggs promptly. Don’t keep them warm or at room temperature for more than two hours. DO NOT EAT hard-boiled eggs used for an egg hunt or as decorations if they have been at temperatures above 40ºF for more than two hours; discard them.

Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.


The Best Bridal Shower Favor: Food Safety

Byline: Janice López-Muñoz, BS, MSIH Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: April 11, 2018

Planning the perfect bridal shower can be stressful. Endless days and nights searching for the perfect games, favors and food can cause some things to fall through the cracks. Safe food handling shouldn’t be one of those things. Good planning always helps ease the mind, so follow our food safety advice to compliment your bridal shower food station and mark this item as done on your to-do list.

Bridal Shower Food Stations

Bridal brunch

If you are having a bridal brunch, it’s likely that an egg casserole or a delicious quiche could make an appearance in your food station. 

Make sure that all egg dishes reach to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F, measured by a food thermometer. When serving, remember that egg-based dishes should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. A good food safety tip is to keep the egg casserole dish or the quiche warm (at 140°F or above), serving on warm trays or chafing dishes. 

Other popular food items at a bridal brunch are fresh cut fruits and veggie trays. Make sure to scrub and wash all produce under running water before cutting on a clean cutting board. Cut fruits and veggies should be kept cold at 40°F or below. You can achieve that by serving them in a container over a bed of ice.  

Temperatures to keep in mind for other items on your menu

If your bridal shower plan is a more formal seated meal, don’t worry! These are the temperatures you should keep in mind for all the items on your menu:

  • Appetizers like hummus or guacamole should be kept cold (at or below 40°F). You can serve them on a container over a bed of ice or in smaller portions, keeping the rest in the fridge. 
  • Hot appetizers like meatballs (beef, lamb or pork) must be cooked to at least 160°F, measured by a food thermometer, and then kept hot in slow cooker (at or above 140°F). 
  • Main courses like meat (145°F with a three minute rest), poultry (165°F) or fish (145°F) should reach the safe internal temperatures, measured by food thermometer.

Finishing up before the games

Before moving on to the fun bridal shower games, make sure all the perishable food items are properly stored in the fridge within two hours of serving. If any were left at room temperature for more than two hours, they should be tossed.

Give your best wishes to the bride, but don’t forget to also congratulate and thank the host on a food safe (and fun) bridal shower!

For more wedding food safety tips, follow us in our Pinterest account, USDA Food Safety. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.


Honor Mom with a Relaxing Food-Safe Brunch

Byline: Janice López-Muñoz, BS, MSIH Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: May 8, 2018

This Mother’s Day, surprise Mom by celebrating her with a delicious homemade brunch that will leave her speechless. There are several tasty, healthy and easy dishes that can be part of Mom’s brunch.  My most popular ‘go to’ dish for an event like this has to be chicken salad!  You can always get creative and add your special touch to make extra special.

The basis for a relaxing day is to put into practice the four key foods safety steps: clean, separate, cook and chill when handling food. Here is what you need to know:

Plan ahead: Gather all of the cooks and make a grocery list for the recipe before heading to the store. 

Pick up your chicken last at the store and place it in a plastic bag to keep any juices away from other foods in your shopping cart. Make room in the refrigerator for proper storage and any leftovers, and don’t forget to check your fridge temperature with an appliance thermometer. It should be set at 40°F or below. The freezer should be set at 0°F or below.

Kitchen basics: Ensure you have the right tools to safely cook mom’s brunch. Clean dishes, utensils and proper handwashing are essential prior to starting. Use separate cutting boards to cut the raw chicken for the sandwiches and ready-to-eat foods like the onions, carrots and tomatoes. Don’t forget the food thermometer to check the safe internal temperature of the chicken, which is 165°F.

Meal directions:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling any food.  Do not wash the chicken before cooking - that increases the risk of cross-contamination in your kitchen. 
  2. Place chicken in skillet with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12-14 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken from the skillet and use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature in the thickest part of the chicken. If the internal temperature is below 165°F, then return to the skillet and check again in a few minutes. Once done, drain the chicken. Let the chicken cool for a few minutes.
  4. Shred chicken and place in a bowl. Add chopped carrots, tomatoes, green onions and mayonnaise.
  5. You can use the chicken salad mixture to make sliders, as a dip for those crunchy chips or it would make the perfect side dish.
  6. Once chicken salad is ready and served, it should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. You can serve smaller portions of the chicken salad and keep the rest in the fridge.
  7. If you have leftover chicken salad, it will stay safe in the fridge three to four days. Eat the leftovers within this timeframe or you can freeze for later use.

Following the food safety guidelines for this delicious recipe will make a relaxing, fun filled and food safe Mother’s Day brunch for everyone at home. 

Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Ask Karen that provides live chats as well as food safety information 24/7.


Food Safety Tips during Ramadan

Byline: Janice López-Muñoz, BS, MSIH Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: May 14, 2018

Ramadan is observed by more than 1 billion Muslims around the world. This holy month is a time of fasting and prayer for the followers of Islam, who abstain from food and drink each day from dawn until dusk. The end of Ramadan is marked with a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr, which stands for “breaking of the fast.” The celebration involves lavish dinners, which include delicacies and large dishes of lamb, chicken, omelets and salads.

During large celebrations, it’s important to ensure food safety measures are taken to avoid getting family and friends sick.

  • Keep your hands clean at all times. Wash them thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and warm water, especially before and after handling raw food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is the simplest way to prevent most infections, including foodborne illness. 
  • Use separate cutting boards for fruits or produce for salads and raw lamb or chicken. This will help prevent cross contamination between ready-to-eat foods and raw meat or poultry. Also, USDA does not recommend washing any raw meat and poultry because it increases the risk of cross-contamination.
  • The only way to make sure your meat and poultry is safe to eat is to cook it to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. You can't see, smell or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. For that reason, USDA recommends the following minimum safe internal temperatures, as measured by a food thermometer:
    • Beef, pork, veal and Lamb - steaks, chops and roasts: 145°F and allow to rest for at least three minutes
    • All poultry (breasts, whole bird and stuffing, legs, thighs, wings and ground poultry): 165°F 
    • Egg Dishes: 160°F
  • Any leftover food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Instead, chill leftovers promptly. Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40-140°F.

Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Last Modified Mar 16, 2018