With the kids back in school, family routines are falling back to a comfortable pace. Gone are the dog days of summer with cookouts galore, and here come the traditional, sit-down dinners that we all enjoy. Before we sit down to the table, though, it is important to ask yourself: am I cooking this right?
For many families who are inexperienced with cooking or learning new recipes, it can be hard to figure out when something is ‘cooked.’ Does it mean until something is warm? When it’s hot? How long do you have to cook a steak before it is done? All of these questions and more surround the kitchen, and to help you navigate these concerns, Concho Valley ER is here to help.
In honor of National Food Safety Education Month, we want to talk about how to safely prepare and store your family dinners.
Finding the Right Temperature
Before you get ready to cook, you want to plan out what you’re making. For many families, this will involve some kind of meat. Be it chicken, fish, beef, or any other chosen protein, the key to a delicious and healthy meal is cooking to the right temperature.
The USDA recommends cooking meats until they reach the following internal temperatures:
- Raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal – 145°F
- Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal – 160°F
- Poultry – 165°F
- All fish – 145°F
Making sure your meat reaches these temperatures is not just good for getting the right flavor in your meals but is important in making sure no unwanted bacteria get into your food. Raw proteins have a risk of housing bacteria, even when you buy them fresh from the grocery store. These bacteria can easily be killed by reaching the appropriate internal temperature for your meats. At the USDA’s recommended temperatures, all bacteria that might have gotten into your food will be killed, making your food delicious and safe!
Keeping it Clean
Meat proteins are only one part of a good meal, though. Whether you’re vegetarian or not, plenty of fruits and vegetables are integral to a healthy diet. While produce can almost always be eaten raw or cooked, there are still safety measures to be taken when eating them.
No matter if you are roasting, grilling, boiling, or dipping your produce, you need to make sure it is washed thoroughly. While bacteria don’t grow as frequently inside of fresh produce, there are contaminants and bacteria that can be found on their outsides. Washing all fruit and vegetables before you eat or cook them is integral to making sure your food stays clean and safe. It is advised that you wash all produce before you cut into them as well, so make sure they’re clean before you chop.
With dinner perfectly cooked, you might have leftovers on your hands. They can make great lunches the next day or be served for a second dinner during the week, but only if your food is stored properly.
Even cooked dishes can get contaminated with bacteria after they’ve been sitting out on the table or counter. Any food that has been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours has a serious risk of bacteria growth in it, and if it is sitting out in the heat then it could take only an hour for food to become unsafe.
To properly store all of your leftovers, place your food in sealed containers, and put it in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as you can. Cooked leftovers are best eaten within 4 days, and in the case of reheating frozen leftovers, then you’ll want to cook them to an internal temperature of at least 165 °F.
As we head into the holiday season, more and more family dishes will be prepared. Make sure you’re cooking your meats to the right temperature, keeping your produce clean, and storing all leftovers currently. Family dinners are important staples of every community, and Concho Valley ER wants to make sure that your family is always happy and healthy when you sit down to eat.