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Food Safety | Food Storage | Food Preparation

Food Safety

Cick on links to learn more about the following topics:
• Four Fight Bacteria Guidelines to Keep Food Safe
Proper Thawing Methods
Food Temperature Danger Zone
Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness
Product Code Dating Information
• What to do in case of Power Failure

Four Fight Bacteria Guidelines to Keep Food Safe:

To avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages consumers to pay special attention to the handling and preparation of foods. Although foodborne disease outbreaks are not common during this time of year, people at the highest risk of being affected by foodborne illness--the elderly, children, and individuals with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women--should be mindful of the potential risks.

Because holidays present a number of unique food safety challenges, consumers should take appropriate precautions in handling, preparing and cooking foods. To ensure that the holiday foods are not only delicious but also safe, FDA is providing several tips to reduce the risk of the most common foodborne illnesses.

Clean: Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and counter tops.

Separate: Don't cross-contaminate! Don't let bacteria spread from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Experts caution to keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.

Cook: Cook to proper temperatures. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Chill: Refrigerate promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40º F and the freezer at 0º F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.

Common misconception: You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. Follow the four Fight BAC!™ guidelines from above to keep food safe.

Proper Thawing Methods:

• Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure that when you are thawing meat and poultry, juices do not drip onto other food.

• Cold Water: For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing.

• Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.

Food Temperature Danger Zone:

When temperatures rise, foods can quickly reach the Temperature Danger Zone. The Temperature Danger Zone is between 40º F and 140º F. Bacteria rapidly multiplies in this temperature range, therefore it is very important to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Your refrigerator should have an internal temperature of 40º F or lower to keep foods cold. If you do not have a thermometer inside or your refrigerator or freezer, you should install them. Also, remember it might be necessary to set the temperature lower during the summertime to maintain the 40º F.
• Shopping Tip: Shop for refrigerated and frozen foods last to prevent your food items from sitting in the cart for a prolonged time, which might bring your items that much closer to the danger zone. If you have a long trip home or plan to run a few errands after food shopping, place a cooler with ice in your car to transport cold and frozen foods. Once home, refrigerate foods immediately.

Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness:

No one wants to have guests and family over and end up serving them a meal only to give them a foodborne illness due to a preparation, or storage mistake. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of many of the common safe practices and methods, therefore we are providing you with the following tips to make sure you and your loved ones won't fall victim to sickness. It's just a matter of following basic rules of food safety.

Prevention of foodborne illness starts with your trip to the supermarket.

• Pick up your packaged and canned foods first, buy your frozen and refrigerated items last, to prevent falling in the temperature danger zone. Always put these products in separate plastic bags so that drippings don't contaminate other foods in your shopping cart.

• Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented or in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids, it's not worth any financial discount.

• Don't consumer raw shellfish.

• Use only pasteurized milk and cheese or treated ciders and juices if you have a health problem, especially one that may have impaired your immune system.

• Choose eggs that are refrigerated in the store. Before putting them in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none are cracked.

• Don't buy frozen seafood if the packages are open, torn or crushed on the edges. When shopping in the store's freezer, try to choose items below the frost line. If the package cover is transparent, look for some type or frost or ice crystals on the product, it could mean that the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.

• Check for cleanliness at the meat or fish counter and the salad bar. For instance, cooked shrimp lying on the same bed of ice as raw fish could become contaminated.

• When shopping for shellfish, buy from markets that get their supplies from state-approved sources; stay clear of vendors who sell shellfish from roadside stands or the back of a truck. And if you're planning to harvest your own shellfish, heed posted warnings about the safety of the water.

Product Code Dating Information:

For a majority of shoppers code dating is often confusing and there are many misconceptions, therefore we have provided the different types of code dating. Many consumers believe that any date on a product means the product is bad or spoiled after that date and should be discarded. However, this is not true in all cases. The process of code dating is actually a voluntary service offered to consumers. Except for some baby foods, and infant formula, product dating is not required by federal regulations. In Pennsylvania, for example, fluid milk and baby formula are forbidden from being sold past the "sell by date".

Types of Code Dating:

"Open dating" is the most commonly used type, but is not a safety date. With the use of a calendar date as opposed to a code on a food product, this can help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. "Open dating" is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
"Closed" or "coded" dating might appear on shelf stable products such as canned and boxed foods.
There are several types of dates:
Sell By: A date that tells the store how long to display the product for sale. The purchaser should buy the product before the date expires.

Best If Used By: This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

Use By: This date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
Follow these Tips to Understand how long food can be stored and still used at peak quality:

• Purchase the food product before the date expires.

• If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze the food if you can't use it within times recommended on the following charts.

• Follow handling recommendations on product.

• Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40º F or below) of Fresh or Uncooked Products and Processed Products sealed at a Plant

See the Food Storage Section for further tips on Product Storage after your purchase.

What to Do In Case of Power Failure:

• The refrigerator and freezer compartments should be opened only if absolutely necessary, and then for the shortest possible time.

• The food in your refrigerator will stay cold for up to four hours if unopened. A full freezer will stay at a satisfactory temperature for about two days, (one day if half full). However, fewer items mean faster thawing time.

• Be sure your freezer is plugged in properly. Check to see if a fuse is blown.

• If the power will be off for several days, purchase dry ice or take frozen foods to a commercial freezer or locker. Use about 25 pounds of dry ice for every 10 cubic feet of space to keep your freezer temperature low for two to four days. Pack newspapers around frozen foods and then add dry ice. Wear gloves when handling the dry ice and use care to avoid freezer burn. Avoid using large quantities of dry ice in poorly ventilated areas.

• If food is partially thawed, but still has some ice crystals, it usually can be refrozen. However, fish, meats and other foods in cream sauces, frozen dinners, cream cakes and cream pies are best used immediately or discarded.

• If food is completely thawed, but still cold to the touch, use the food immediately or dispose of it.

• If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures (41 degrees Fahrenheit or below), make sure that the food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to ensure that any food-borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.

• Before eating fruits and vegetables, wash them thoroughly using safe water source.

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