Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Food Safety 101: Safe Eating Tips for College Students

When college students return to campus for a new semester they have lots of things on their minds. Many are thinking about books, classes, football games, tailgate parties and food safety. Well, lets be honest, food safety is not on the minds of most college students. With all that is going on in their lives, food safety is probably the last thing students consider when grabbing a fast meal or reheating leftovers in the microwave. Mandel Smith, a Nutrition Educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, says when students learn and practice good food safety habits, they can spend more time hitting the books and less time nursing themselves back to health after catching a nasty foodborne illness bug. Smith shares these basic food safety tips developed by the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, and the Partnership for Food Safety Education. Clean Wash hands and surfaces often. Separate Keep raw meat, poultry and egg products from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. Cook Raw meat, poultry and egg products need to be cooked thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present. Chill Refrigerate promptly. “These four basic rules of Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill work well with college students or anyone that is interested in keeping their food safe” says Smith. Each year, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline receives calls from parents and students who have questions about food safety. Here is a sampling of those questions about how to safely cook and prepare foods while away at school. Q. Several slices of pizza have been left out overnight. Is the pizza still safe to eat?
A. No. Perishable food should never be left out of refrigeration more than two hours. This is true even if there are no meat products on the pizza. Foodborne bacteria that may be present on these foods grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F and can double in number every 20 minutes. Other take-out or delivered foods such as chicken, hamburgers, cut fruit, salads, and party platters, must also be kept at a safe temperature. The rule is to "Keep HOT Food HOT and COLD Food COLD!" To keep hot foods safe, keep them at 140 °F or above. Cold food must be kept at 40 °F or below (in the refrigerator or freezer). Bacteria grow rapidly between 40 and 140 °F. Discard all perishable food left at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in air temperatures above 90 °F. Use safely refrigerated food in 3 to 4 days; frozen leftovers, 1 to 2 months. Q. I am living off campus this year. My two roommates and I will be preparing our own meals. What do we need to know to cook food safely?
A. When using frozen meats, thaw them in the refrigerator - NOT on the counter. Don't allow raw meat or poultry juices to drip on other foods. Wash your hands before and after preparing foods. Always use clean paper towels. Wash used cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water. Use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures. Cook meat and poultry to the following safe minimum internal temperatures: Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F. All cuts of pork, 160 °F. Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. If you feel food has not been handled safely, throw it out. Q. My daughter's college is only a four-hour drive away, so she comes home often. How can I safely pack home-cooked foods for her to take back to school?
A. For a four-hour drive, food must be handled properly to keep it safe from spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. Cooked foods should be divided into shallow containers and cooled in the refrigerator prior to the trip. To transport the food, place it in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs, or containers of frozen water. Add the cold containers of food from the refrigerator when she's ready to leave. Freezing foods prior to the return trip also helps keep food safe. Advise your daughter to refrigerate the food as soon as she arrives at college.

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