As part of my responsibilities as the Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at SALMON Health and Retirement, I do quarterly inspections of all our Dining Services Departments for sanitation and safe food handling practices. It’s critical that we maintain high standards in this area for the protection of our Residents and, happily, our Dining Services Directors understand this well. We’ve maintained perfect Department of Public Health (DPH) survey results for sanitation at all annual inspections.
After completing my most recent visits, I felt compelled to do some cleaning in my own kitchen. I tackled the spice rack, pantry and refrigerator, and I was shocked at what I found – even a food expert like myself can find some scary things lurking in these areas. Between the products I rarely use and the unknown items given to me by family that I neglected to eat (but felt too guilty to throw away!), I was astounded at the number of expired items in my own kitchen. Most of them were spices and I can excuse the ones that recently expired a few months ago – but 2 years ago? That’s cause for concern.
We have the impression that spices are shelf stable forever. This is not the case. It is important to read your ‘use by’ or expiration dates. For products that have a code instead of a date you need to call the manufacturer to find out what the used by date is.
Salad dressings and parmesan cheese were other culprits in my kitchen that were completely expired. Trouble is, it isn’t easy finding the expiration dates on these products. They’re in obscure places in very tiny print and often it can take several minutes to even find them. But rest assured — all food products have a shelf life and it’s important to know what it is. Here are some handy tips:
- Keep raw meats separate from fresh produce – store in separate bins.
- Check all ‘use by’ dates and make sure they are clearly visible for quick reference.
- Keep your refrigerator temperature between 38-41 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep Freezer temps around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Rotate foods when new items are purchased storing the newer items in the back.
- Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, and counter tops with hot, soapy water before and after and in between preparing each food item
- Do not cross-contaminate. This can lead to the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they’re not handled properly. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, so keep your brain healthy food and their juices away from already cooked or ready-to-eat foods and fresh produce.
- Wash all produce prior to cooking and or eating.
- Cook foods to ‘Minimum Safe Cooking Temperatures.’ (a chart is online at http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html)
When Storing Leftovers:
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours in clean, shallow, covered containers to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.
- Date leftover items and dispose of them according to safe storage time frame (http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html)
So dive into those pantries, check the spices, and measure your temps for the best in Food Safety Practices in your kitchen!
For more information on Safe Food Handling Practices visit http://www.foodsafety.gov/index.html