September is designated as Food Safety month, so it is a perfect time to share information about this important topic. Consumers of all ages need to improve their safe food handling practices. With only 61 percent of Americans following all package cooking instructions, and even less using a food thermometer (19 percent), this is a unique opportunity to help educate and inform consumers to “Cook It Safe.”
Pre-prepared meals are fast and convenient by design, but not taking the time to read the cooking instructions on the package can lead to undercooking. Not all of these foods can be cooked to a safe temperature in a microwave. Food poisoning can occur when food is not cooked evenly to a safe internal temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria that might be present.
Frozen convenience foods may appear ready-to-eat and simply in need of being reheated, but many contain raw products that must be fully cooked before eating. Reading the product’s label should inform consumers whether the product needs to be reheated or thoroughly cooked. The package may convey, for example, that the product contains uncooked meat or poultry. If the package instructions for microwave cooking call for covering or stirring the food or allowing a “stand time” do not ignore these steps, which contribute to even cooking. Covering food traps moisture and raises the temperature, while stirring prevents cold spots where bacteria can survive. “Stand time” is the time between removal from a heat source and consumption, when food continues to cook for a few minutes. Skipping these key parts of cooking instructions may allow bacteria to survive and lead to food-borne illness.
Get in the habit of using a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature. It is a good idea to test the food in several places. This applies when cooking in microwaves or any other heat source. The safe internal temperatures that will ensure bacteria are killed in different types of food are:
• Whole cuts of fresh beef, pork, veal and lamb: 145 degrees F, followed by three minutes of stand time.
• Fish: 145 degrees F.
• Ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb: 160 degrees F.
• Eggs and egg dishes: 160 degrees F.
• All poultry, ground or whole: 165 degrees F.
• Leftovers and casseroles: 165 degrees F.
• Hotdogs and reheated deli meats: 165 degrees F or steaming hot.
For more information about food safety feel free to give me a call at the Cottonwood Extension District – Great Bend office.
Donna Krug is the Family & Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. Contact her at 620-793-1910 or [email protected].