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Cooking Food Safely

Why take the time to cook food to safe temperatures? Because that's the only sure way to destroy harmful bacteria that could make you sick. The City County Health Department, Division of Environmental Health is recognizing September as National Food Safety Education Month, an annual observance to focus attention on the importance of safe food handling and preparation in both home and commercial kitchens.

Created by the food service industry in 1995, NFSM is widely supported by federal, state, and local government agencies, food industry, and consumer organizations. This year, NFSM is dedicated increasing public awareness that an invisible cause of foodborne illness-bacteria-can survive in foods if they are not properly cooked. With Cook It Safely as its theme, NFSM will stress the simple step of cooking to safe temperatures as one of the most effective means of preventing foodborne illness.

According to a 1998 Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Department of Agriculture consumer food survey, most consumers have developed a good foundation of food safety knowledge. However, many are not following safe handling practices.

  • A significant number of people still eat foods, such as raw eggs and hamburgers, that increase their chances of food borne illness.
  • Not all consumers understand the importance of cooking foods to the temperatures necessary to ensure that bacteria and other germs are killed.
  • Some people still believe that judging doneness by the color of meat is a reliable indicator. A 1998 USDA study on premature browning found that more than 25 percent of hamburgers turn brown before reaching a safe internal temperature.

The fact is that foods are cooked safely when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Here are some helpful tips to Cook It Safely:

  • Use a clean food thermometer to make sure that meat, poultry, and casseroles reach a safe internal temperature.
  • Cook meat and poultry to safe internal temperatures.
    • ground beef – 160F
    • poultry (chicken breasts) – 170F
    • roasts and steaks – 145F
    • Whole poultry (turkeys/chickens) – 180F
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or partially cooked.
  • Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork when done.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure that there are no cold spots in foods where bacteria can survive.
  • Leftovers should be heated to a least 165F.

To learn more about safe food handling contact the Environmental Health Department at 633–4090.