As you spring clean your closets, cars, and garages, the U.S. Department of Agriculture"s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) encourages everyone to Be Food Safe and give your kitchen - especially refrigerators and freezers where raw meat, poultry and seafood is stored - a thorough cleaning as well.
This is a good time of year to use or throw out items that are losing their quality or have spoiled, as well as to check for unnoticed spills and remove lingering odors. Cleaning out your freezer requires extra care and can create new messes, so FSIS is providing simple steps to help you spring clean your kitchen, prevent cross contamination, and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Bacteria can be transferred by hands, cutting boards, and knives and quickly spread to all kitchen surfaces. Frequent cleaning can keep that from happening.
Keep countertops clean by washing with hot soapy water before and after preparing food.
Keep the refrigerator clean at all times. Wipe up spills immediately and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water, and rinse them well. If spoiled food has left an odor in your refrigerator or freezer as a result of a power outage, wash and sanitize shelves, crispers, and ice trays, as well as the door and gasket. Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation. FSIS has more tips on how to remove kitchen odors.
Sanitize surfaces and utensils with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from one surface to another, and it is especially likely to take place when thawing or preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Any bacteria that may be on frozen meat, poultry, and fish can become active upon thawing and cause illness if food is not handled safely.
Keep fresh or frozen raw meats and any juices that may leak from them away from already-cooked food or fresh produce. Thaw or store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a container or on a plate in the refrigerator so juices can"t drip on other foods.
Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Use another for salads and ready-to-eat food.
Wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use. Rinse with clear water and air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards and solid wood boards can be washed in a dishwasher (laminated boards may crack and split).
Replace cutting boards that are excessively worn or have developed hard-to-clean grooves where bacteria can live. Go to FSIS for more information.
Always use clean plates and utensils. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.
Even for experienced cooks, the improper heating and preparation of food means illness-causing bacteria can survive. Meat, poultry, and seafood should be cooked to a safe internal temperature to be sure bacteria that may be present is destroyed.
Know the safe internal temperature for each dish you are preparing. Cuts of beef, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 °F; pork and ground beef should be cooked to 160 °F; and poultry should be cooked to 165 °F. A more complete list of safe internal temperatures can be found at www.IsItDoneYet.gov.
Use a food thermometer to make sure food has reached the temperatures listed above - you can"t tell food is cooked safely just by looking. To ensure the accuracy of the food thermometer, follow the package instructions or calibrate kitchen thermometers. FSIS has more information about what type of food thermometer is best for your kitchen and your favorite recipes.
After use, carefully wash food thermometers by hand with hot soapy water. Do not immerse them in water.
When microwaving, stir, rotate the dish, and cover food to prevent cold spots where bacteria can survive. If food spills in the microwave, wipe it up immediately and clean surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water.
Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40 °F - 140 °F, so chilling food properly is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Cool the fridge to 40 °F or below, and use an appliance thermometer to make sure the temperature does not rise.
Chill leftovers and takeout foods within 2 hours, making sure to divide food into shallow containers for rapid cooling.
Thaw meat, poultry, and seafood in the fridge, not on the counter, and don't overstuff the fridge.
Once a week, make it a habit to throw out perishable foods that should no longer be eaten. A general rule of thumb for refrigerator storage is 4 days for cooked leftovers; 3 to 5 day for raw steaks, roasts, and chops of red meat; and 1 to 2 days for raw poultry, ground meats, and fish. check this detailed refrigerator storage chart.
The specialists at USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline can answer your other questions about spring cleaning your kitchen and keeping food safe year-round. You can reach them at 1-888-MPHotline, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST (English or Spanish). Listen to timely recorded food safety messages at the same number 24 hours a day. Or e-mail questions to MPHotline.email@example.com.