7 food safety steps for successful community meals

This week, the Office of the Attorney General’s “Consumer Caution Corner” outlines the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seven food safety steps for successful community meals.

Whether preparing food for a family reunion or a community gathering, people who are great cooks at home do not necessarily know how to safely prepare and store large quantities of food for large groups. Food that is mishandled can cause foodborne illness. However, by following some simple steps, volunteer cooks can make the event safe and successful!

1. Plan Ahead — Make sure the location meets your needs.

• Be sure you have enough oven, stovetop, refrigerator, freezer, and work space.

• Find out if there is a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning.

2. Store & Prepare Food Safely.

• Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of shopping or preparing; one hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.

• Find separate preparation areas in the workspace for raw and cooked food.

• Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that held raw food.

• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and work surfaces frequently with hot, soapy water.

• Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.

3. Cook Food to Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures — It is the only way to tell if harmful bacteria are destroyed!

• Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles, and other food. Check temperature in several places to be sure food is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.

• Never partially cook food for finishing later because you increase the risk of bacterial growth.

4. Transport Food Safely — Keep hot food HOT. Keep cold food COLD.

• Keep hot food at or above 140 °F. Wrap well and place in an insulated container.

• Keep cold food at or below 40 °F. Place in a cooler with a cold source such as ice or frozen gel packs.

5. Need to Reheat? Food must be hot and steamy for serving. Just “warmed up” is not good enough.

• Use the stove, oven, or microwave to reheat food to 165 °F. Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil.

6. Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone” (40-140 °F).

• Keep hot food hot—at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers.

• Keep cold food cold — at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.

7. When In Doubt, Throw it Out!

• Discard food left out at room temperature for more than two hours; one hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.

• Place leftovers in shallow containers. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.

Be Food Safe! Prepare with Care.

• CLEAN. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often.

• SEPARATE. Do not cross-contaminate.

• COOK. Use a food thermometer.

• CHILL. Chill food promptly.

For additional food safety information, visit BeFoodSafe.gov and AskKaren.gov or call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

Each week, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Education Program (a.k.a. “The Consumer Caution Corner”) shares Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission or USDA publications to promote education and awareness among the community while also enabling consumers and businesses with the “know-how” to identify and protect themselves from unfair and deceptive trade practices and other marketplace schemes.

If you would like to file a consumer complaint, pick up a form at the OAG (on Capital Hill) or request a form by email from consumer_counsel@cnmioag.org. After completing the consumer complaint form, submit it by email or in-person.

We cannot act as your private attorney. If you need legal assistance, we will recommend that you contact a private attorney or legal aid organization. We cannot give legal advice or act as your private attorney.

Michael J. Cyganek is consumer counsel of the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.

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MICHAEL J. CYGANEK, Special to the Saipan Tribune Author

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