What Is Food Safety, and Why Is It Important?

Food safety is not just a concept; it’s a crucial part of staying healthy. So, what exactly is food safety? It’s the process of keeping food products safe to prevent people from getting sick due to poor practices and conditions when handling food. For instance, if someone neglects to wash their hands before preparing a sandwich, the risk of poor hygiene leading to illness due to an unknown bacterium is a real concern. Or, using an ingredient with a long overdue expiration date can also cause a similar out-turn.

Poorly handled food may not always cause severe problems, and the maximum consequence you may suffer may be itchy skin. But, when food is properly handled, you’re certain that you’ll enjoy it without any negative consequences.

A person in the kitchen with ingredients on the counter before cooking them.

What are the principles of food safety?

According to the CDC, the four steps to food safety are Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. What does this mean exactly?

Clean

Let’s start with Clean. Since various bacteria and germs can stay alive for quite some time, it’s recommended that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and not only water. Washing your hands should be done before, during, and after food preparation. Why would you wash your hands while you’re preparing food?

To avoid cross-contamination (more on this subject in the following section). Remember to clean any reusable containers correctly. Ultimately, remember to wash counters with hot and soapy water when you’re done preparing the food.

Separate

Separating certain foods is important to avoid cross-contamination, which happens when bacteria are transferred between two foods (eggs, seafood, flour, uncooked meat, poultry) or from food to surfaces or vice versa. You can avoid cross-contamination by not washing fish, raw meat, and poultry, but it’s recommended that you wash fruits and veggies. Cross-contamination can be avoided while buying the ingredients. For example, when grocery shopping, it’s best to keep foods such as seafood, raw meat, eggs, and poultry in a separate area where the juices won’t leak onto other foods you have in the cart.

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Using two cutting boards is also a good idea: one for raw meat and another for everything else. Remember not to wash raw chicken; there is no need for it. It’s ready to cook, and washing it will only spread germs. If washing, remember to take the necessary precautions.

Cook

It’s no secret that poorly cooked foods are one of the many causes of illness after eating. That’s why it’s important to cook ingredients at a high enough temperature to kill the germs that will make you sick. If you microwave your food, give the food some time to settle so that hotter areas can cook the colder ones. You can tell that something is well cooked by using a food thermometer, or if you don’t have one, by looking at the texture and color.

The CDC recommends the following:

  • All poultry which includes turkey and chicken: 165F.
  • Casseroles and leftovers: 165F.
  • Pork, Lamb, Veal, Beef, and ham: 145F.
  • Fins and fish: 145F

Chill

Remember to never leave your food out for too long. Bacteria can quickly reproduce even at room temperature or when temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140. Ensure that your refrigerator is cooling below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You can put an appliance thermometer in your fridge to ensure proper cooling.

If you need to store hot or warm foods, ensure you put them in shallow and clean containers. When you’re done eating, you have a maximum time of two hours to put the food away. If you’re in an area where temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the storage time falls to one hour. When you take something out of the freezer, put it in cold water, the microwave, or the fridge to help defrost, but never throw it onto the kitchen counter. By doing so, you’re allowing bacteria to multiply in the areas of the food that reach room temperature.

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When you know what precautions to take, you can avoid those long nights of feeling sick. Also, when you eat healthy, such as vegan spaghetti with avocado and spinach, you also ensure you get all the necessary vitamins to feel and stay healthy. Try to avoid ultra-processed foods that can cause all sorts of health problems.