More on Food Safety

What does bacteria need to grow?
The restaurant industry has come up with an easy acronym to remember:
Food – protein and starches
Acidity – Bacteria can only survive in certain pH ranges
Temperature – Too hot and bacteria die. Too cold, and they go dormant (but remain alive)
Time – Bacteria need time to grow to quantities sufficient to make us sick
Oxygen – Most bacteria will only reproduce if oxygen is present (NOTE: Botulism is an exception and only makes toxins in low oxygen environments).
Moisture – Bacteria need water to grow

Do all bacteria die at 140 degrees?
Absolutely not. If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, you’ll see bacteria there that has evolved to grow at the temperature of boiling water. The thing to remember, is that bacteria that makes us sick will die off at 140 degrees if held at that temperature for a long enough time.

Does freezing kill bacteria?
Simply put, no. The bacteria that can cause food sickness simply goes dormant when it’s frozen. (Of note: Some parasites, such as tapeworm are killed by freezing at low temperatures for extended periods of time.)

Food Safety FAQ:

If I leave meat out for more than two hours, and then cook it above to the recommended temperature (145 for beef/pork, 160 for hamburger, 165 for chicken), is it safe to eat?
Certain strains of bacteria, notably Bacillus Cereus, put off toxins as it reproduces. These toxins are heat stable, meaning meat that has not been handled properly may be void of bacteria, but may still make you sick. This is why it’s important to defrost meat at temps below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

If I smell food and it smells fresh, is it OK to eat?
Most of the bacteria that causes funky smells in food won’t make you sick. That’s why strong smelling cheeses can be consumed with minimal concern. (This doesn’t mean that foul smelling food is safe to eat, as there may still be unsafe levels of non-smelly bacteria.) The presence of scary bacteria on food can’t necessarily be determined by smell. Just because food smells OK, doesn’t mean it’s OK to eat.

When I was pregnant, I was told not to eat lunch meats, if bacteria stays dormant below 40 why is this an issue?
The concern is Listeria Monocytogenes, a bacteria that propagates as low as 34 degrees. Listeria doesn’t normally impact healthy people, but in cases of pregnancy, or other at risk groups, such as immunity weakened individuals, listeria can be downright fatal. Avoid any uncooked foods such as soft cheeses, deli meat, deli salads, shrimp and hot dogs that are not served steaming hot. Wash veggies thoroughly before eating.

What can I do to make my food safer?
Although there is no 100% foolproof way to guarantee your food is safe, a few precautions will eliminate risk:
-Invest in a thermometer for your fridge, and make sure it stays below 40 degrees. Thermometers are relatively inexpensive
-Invest in another temperature for your meat, and make sure meat is cooked to proper temperatures.
-Store uncooked meats on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Meat juices are much more likely to contaminate fruits and veggies if meat is stored anywhere but the bottom shelf.
-When serving foods, the utensils doing the serving should be treated like they are food themselves. Don’t allow ladles, tongs, forks or spoons to be kept out longer than good food practices suggest appropriate.

What’s the right way to thaw food?
The preferred method is in a fridge that is kept below 40 degrees, but that is not always possible. If the item will take less than one hour to thaw (such as a steak), put the steak directly on a frypan but don’t turn on the heat. The metal in the frypan will absorb heat from the air and transmit it to the item to be defrosted. In those scenarios where the item will take more than an hour to thaw, immerse the item to be thawed in water that is kept below 40 degrees. Water is 10 times more effective at transmitting heat, and large items (such as a whole chicken or turkey) will thaw significantly faster than in the fridge. In both thawing methods, be sure to properly sterilize the vessel that came in contact with the raw meat.

How can I store leftovers to make sure they stay safe?
The trick is to get food chilled as quickly as possible. Use narrow containers that will allow for the cold to rapidly permeate your food. For more denser foods, such as pasta, potatoes or meats, put the item in an ice bath, and quickchill the food, mixing periodically while chilling.

1 comment to More on Food Safety

  • I learned about FAT TOM when I took my food handler’s permit class several years ago, but I had forgotten the acronym (not the info). Thanks for the reminder!

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