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Food safety: Protect your family's health this year

Health Nutrition

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Every January people make New Year's resolutions that focus on exercise, diet or other ways to stay healthy. But the best resolution to keep the entire family healthy is by focusing on food safety in the kitchen.


The first step is to get started right away with a clean kitchen. Food-related illnesses can affect anyone - about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are caused by food-borne diseases in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Without properly preparing and storing food, microorganisms can have an opportunity to grow and multiply in your kitchen.


"Cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer on a frequent basis is crucial for maintaining the safety and quality of your foods," says Dr. Marisa Bunning, Food Science Assistant Professor at Colorado State University. "You're using these appliances to store and protect your food, and it's the small things, like temperature control or even the date, that can make the difference between good food and food that makes your family sick."


Here are a couple of tips from the Institute of Food Technologists and the Partnership for Food Safety Education to start your 2010 in a healthy way:


* Begin food labeling immediately. Mark the date on everything you put into your freezer or refrigerator so you know how long it's been in there.


* Make sure your fridge is at 40 degrees or below.


* Use freezer-safe containers or bags when storing food in the freezer.


Meat safety is also very important because meat can perish very quickly if not stored properly. Here are a few tips for meat storage:


* Consume uncooked beef stored in the freezer within three to four months, or one to two days for beef stored in the fridge.


* Soups and stews are safe for two to three months in the freezer and three to four days in the fridge.


* Keep cooked poultry up to four months in the freezer and three to four days in the fridge, but uncooked poultry should be eaten within nine months of freezing and one to two days of refrigeration.


* Freeze fresh seafood if you don't plan to eat it within two days.


For other tips around the kitchen:


* Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw your frozen foods in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Food thawed in the microwave or in cold water should be cooked immediately and should not be refrozen.


* Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item, and before you cut the next item.


* Use two cutting boards, one for raw meats that you plan to cook and one for ready-to-eat foods like bread, cooked meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. Keep these boards labeled and separated so they never get mixed up - but they still need to be washed after using.


* Keep your hands clean, especially after handling raw produce. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap so you don't contaminate any other food items in the kitchen, utensils or even family members.


Food safety is important for keeping your family healthy this year. For more tips, visit www.IFTFoodFacts.org or www.fightbac.org.

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