Food Safety: It Really is a Life or Death Matter

Smiling young woman cleaning furniture in kitchen

When we prepare and cook food, there are a few basic rules we need to follow to make sure our food is safe to eat.  Nothing will deter our guests from returning more than a case or more of nasty food poisoning.  And yes, people have actually died from foodborne ilnesses, so this is really no joking matter.

To begin with, all purchased foods, whether you found them at a cute stand in your local farmer’s market or in the frozen food section at your local grocery store, have been handled by a number of people before they reach your kitchen counter. What this means to you is that the contamination risks are much higher than if you grew and processed the food items yourself.

That being said, contamination can come from anywhere, including the original grower, no matter how careful they try to be. Raw meat can also contain bacteria such as e-coli, salmonella and parasites. So . . . proper food handling and cooking is a must in every kitchen as it can prevent unnecessary illness.

The first step to keeping your family an guests safe is to wash, wash, wash.

Wash your hands, wash the food (including fruits and vegetables, organic or not) and disinfect all surfaces that the food may touch. Wash both your hands and all kitchen surfaces often during meal preparation.

Separate the foods and juices to prevent cross contamination.

Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables. I use a plastic cutting board such as the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board when cutting raw meat, fish, etc. so the juices don’t soak into the wood and cause bacteria to grow. Another cool product is the Seville Classics Bamboo Cutting Board with 7 Removable Cutting Mats; each mat is color-coded and dishwasher safe.

Don’t place cooked food on the same platter that held raw food.

Use an antibacterial cleaner such as Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner instead of simply wiping down counters with a wet rag.

Another thing to remember is foods must be cooked at the correct temperature. Ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb must all reach a temperature of 160 degrees. However, meats that are cut into steaks, roasts, or chops, the internal temperature only needs to reach 145 degrees.

Turkey, chicken and pork need 160 degrees no matter what. Even precooked pork, such as breakfast sausage, needs to be brought to 140 degrees just to be safe.

Eggs should be cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm (sorry over-easy lovers) and any egg dish must reach 160 degrees. Heating leftovers and casseroles to 165 degrees will render them safe.

Be especially careful with raw foods. Seafood, for example, may contain toxins like mercury when raw, and may harm young children and unborn babies. Avoid raw bean sprouts. Always marinate food in the refrigerator in plastic covered bowls, not on the counter, and if the marinade is to be applied to the food as it cooks, make a separate batch from that which held the raw food, especially if you plan to store the marinade for future use.

Finally, refrigerate any leftover food quickly, as bacteria can double every 20 minutes at room temperature. Thankfully, the cold temperatures in the refrigerator will stop this from happening, and proper cooking will destroy all bacteria.

Dairy items such as milk and cheese must be kept cold, and no matter what some health guru might say, be sure your milk is pasteurized. Should you lose power, keep the refrigerator and the freeze closed. If you do this, food should stay safe in the refrigerator for about 24 hours and in the freezer for 2-4 days if it’s full, less if not. You can also put dry ice to put in these appliances for longer storage.

While important for everyone, special consideration should be given to pregnant women, older people, and anyone with a chronic illness, as due to their reduced immune systems, the results of poisoning can be severe.

Check for food recalls and other information at to be an aware and healthy cook.

Follow the above tips and you’ll be one step closer to following the Mountain Man Gourmet motto:

Eat Well. Live Well. Be Happy!

Lawrence J. Clark: The Mountain Man Gourmet!



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