Everyone has their own version of what is safe to eat, as well as how food should be stored at home. Lots of urban myths and familial practices are passed down from relatives. Are you one of those people who leave food sitting on the counter for days, munching off of it when hungry, oblivious to the microbacteria party going on inside those leftovers? Or are you hyper aware of food temps and refuse to eat food that has been left out, take leftovers or anything not immediately refrigerated?
Some people will leave food in the refrigerator or freezer for long periods of time and have no issue with eating something placed in the freezer long ago. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with food that has been around for a while, or hasn’t been handled correctly, here are some of the best food safety practices in the home:
- Make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are set to the proper temperatures. The refrigerator temperature should be kept at or below 40°f, and your freezer should be set at 0°f. Maintaining your refrigerator/freezer at these temperatures will help your food last longer and stay safer.
- Perishable foods should never be left sitting on the kitchen counter to thaw for longer than 2 hours. After that point the center of the food may remain frozen, while the outer surface may enter the danger zone.
- The danger zone is the range of temperatures between 40° and 140°F, where bacteria multiply rapidly.
- Never use running hot water to thaw frozen food. The outside quickly gets into the danger zone while the inside takes longer to thaw.
- The best quick-thaw method is to use tepid water (tepid water is approximately 105°f). This is the best option when you have a small package of meat to thaw. Place the package in a bowl that your meat will fit in nicely. Place the bowl in the sink. Turn the water on and adjust the temp. Set the water at a fast drip and let it run over the frozen meat. This can take approximately 30 minutes for smaller cuts of meat. If you are trying to thaw a big roast you can use this method, just dont go over two hours. It is best to thaw large cuts of meat in the refrigerator.
- Yes, microwaves have a defrost setting, and you can get good results if you monitor carefully. But defrosting in the microwave can also dry the meat out. It also brings the food into the danger zone quickly so the meat must be cooked soon after defrosting. Truth be told, you’re not actually defrosting, but slowly cooking. This is why meat that is defrosted in the microwave can end up being dry.
It is safest to allow food to thaw in the refrigerator. Yes this takes time, but it is better to be safe than sorry. The meat that you are thawing never gets into the “danger zone” where bacteria begin to thrive. All it takes is some planning ahead.
Let’s Talk Dates
Do you ever get confused by all the dates printed on food products? Let’s get a few things straight:
- “Open Date” – This date uses a calendar date on a food product. The Open Date is not a safety date, instead, this label tells how long to display the product for sale at the store.
- “Best if Used By” (or Before) – This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. This is not a date to purchase by, nor is it an indication that the product is unsafe after this date.
- “Use By” – This date is the date recommended to use the product in order to have the best quality. This date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product. Even after the Use By date, a food should remain safe and wholesome if it has been properly stored and handled.
- “Expiration Date” – Did you know that the expiration dates on products doesn’t mean that they will be bad after that date? What it means is that the product quality will deteriorate after that point. Depending on how you handled it and if there was cross contamination it can remain safe to eat after that date.
- Closed or coded dates are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.
- Packaged on, Manufactured on or Prepared on. Packaging dates are closely related to best before dates and are intended to give consumers an idea of how long a product will maintain its quality. These dates are used on food products with a shelf life of 90 days or less.
Sell by or Freeze by dates are other voluntary markings used in Canada specifically, and can help the consumer make decisions about purchasing and storing food.
So really it’s all about common sense, right? Don’t take a package of meat out of the freezer and leave it on the counter or in the sink to thaw. Despite the best of intentions the odds are that you are going to leave it sitting there too long. Yes it will be thawed when you finally remember hours later, but at what cost? We all lead busy lives. Because of that it is best to err on the side of caution and thaw your food in the refrigerator. It just takes a little planning. That is really the only way to be sure that you are doing all you can
Ok, this one might be a hot button issue because of the size of a frozen turkey. Many people let it sit in the kitchen sink overnight to thaw. All we can say is, YIKES! The graphic below shows some really great information that will come in handy this Thanksgiving. You may or may not know this, but you can cook a turkey from frozen! You may have never considered it, because you know, stuffing. But since cutting gluten and bread out of an AIP diet is necessary, this could actually be done.