Have you ever gotten food poisoning or food borne illness?
Flinging out some food for thought....
- Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of food-poisoning cases come from food prepared and eaten at home!
- 80 percent of all grocery-store chickens in the U.S. are contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacter, or both.
- The number of people who say they don't wash their hands or cutting boards after cutting raw meat or chicken has dropped to 15 percent in recent years. Videotaped studies tell a different story - one that says the real number is still closer to 30 percent!
- The federal Centers for Disease Control and prevention estimates that there are between 76 million and 81 million cases of food poisoning each year, most of which go unreported because they didn't require a trip to the hospital or doctor's office.
1. Why in the U.S. do we need to keep eggs in the fridge?
So the cuticle seals the egg and helps to prevent bacteria from entering the very porous shell. It also helps to prevent moisture loss, which happens as eggs age.
The eggs you buy at the grocery store no longer have the majority of their cuticle in tact. Without this natural protective coating, eggs are more susceptible to contamination, which is why in the U.S. we store grocery store eggs in the fridge; to slow the growth of bacteria. Although refrigeration does not kill bacteria, it reduces the likelihood of you becoming sick by keeping the number of bacteria limited. It's also more difficult for bacteria to penetrate the eggshell if the eggs are stored in the fridge.
Why I store many of my eggs on my kitchen countertop!
But I can tell you I am very careful about cracking my eggs and keeping contact limited. I also never eat eggs that aren't thoroughly cooked. Scrambled or fried only. If my kids want sunny side up eggs, I use grocery stores eggs to be safe from harmful bacteria.
Since I'm looking to store as many as 12 dozen egg at a time I need to be flexible. The grocery store bought eggs always go in the fridge. Eggs that will be used within 24 hours are stored on the countertop and the rest go into my sun room or basement. And I certainly don't want them to freeze so temps are checked.
The thought of throwing out 6 dozen eggs made me sick, as did the thought of potentially eating spoiled eggs. What to do? What would you do? I ate them but didn't use them for the kids. I never got sick. Thinking about how hard those birds were working to lay those eggs for me in the dead of winter was a motivating factor!
So I'm certainly not advising you to leave your eggs purposely out of a fridge for extending periods of time, especially grocery store ones because you can't. Grocery store eggs must always be stored in the fridge. But I'm not going to stress about leaving my farm eggs on the kitchen countertop or in the basement for three good reasons:
1.) Because the eggs I get from the farm aren't washed, the cuticle is in tact.
2.) This cuticle protects the egg from bacteria.
3.) At a dozen eggs each day, we go through the eggs within a week or so anyhow, so they are not out for long periods of time on the kitchen counter.
A few other egg-cellent tips...
- I only keep my eggs on the counter for roughly a week. If it's longer than that, I find a spot for them in the fridge.
- Room temperature eggs will age faster than fridge eggs, for long-term storage, it is better to move them to the fridge.
- Once eggs have been refrigerated, they need to stay in the fridge. If a refrigerated egg is left out at room temperature for a long period of time, it will start to "sweat."
- For this reason, grocery-store eggs are always stored in the fridge.
- At times, the farm yields a egg or two that look like they have poop, feathers or both on it! So with a super dirty egg, I will wash it with hot water and dish soap then refrigerate that egg immediately.
- I've never had a problem with any farm eggs going bad on me whether they be stored in the fridge, basement, sun room, garage or countertop. And it's convenient to have a room-temperature egg ready at a moment's notice when I'm making pancakes, brownies or whatever!
- Ever take a ride out to the country and see farm fresh organic and free-range eggs for sale at $2 a dozen? They always seem to be in coolers with no ice packed in them. Know what you'll pay for free-range/organic eggs at the store? Like $5-$6 a dozen. Eeeep. So don't hesitate to buy cheap unfrigerated farm eggs!
2.) How long can milk be out of the fridge before it's dangerous to consume?
So want the facts? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, refrigerated foods, including milk, should never be out of a fridge at room temperature for longer than two hours. Even a cooler is not cold enough after this point. In the summer cut this time frame down to an hour if the temperature reaches 90 degrees F. Any longer and bacteria can start to grow.
By law, Grade A milk must be maintained at a temperature of 45 degrees F. or below. Bacteria in milk will grow minimally below 45 degrees F. However, temperature well below 40 degree F. are vital to protect the milk's overall quality. These low temps must be maintained through warehousing, distribution, delivery and storage.
And accidentally leaving milk in the car to the point it spoils? Hopefully you'll only do it once!
3.) Speaking of milk...how cold should I keep my refrigerator?
What's the biggest dilemma? Finding the right balance. The milk likes to be colder, but the lettuce not so much. In fact, I can't tell you how many times I've purged lettuce because it froze in the fridge, defrosted and froze again to become soppy, wilty and unedible lettuce. Even my broccoli has frozen in the back of the fridge. In fact, that freeze, thaw and freeze cycle has spoiled more red peppers than I can count on both hands.
So this is how I win the battle. I store the milk in the back of the fridge where it is coldest and keep the veggies in the drawer where they won't freeze. If the milk gets a few frozen flicks in it, no big deal. But if the spinach freezes, I loose. Meat goes in the way back as well because it's coldest there. A bit of a pain rearranging the fridge constantly but it's worth it.
4.) Is it safe to eat moldy cheese if I cut away the mold?
But for cheese that isn't supposed to be moldy, the safest route is to purge it. Soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta cheese with mold should immediately be dumped. The same rule applies to cheese that's shredded, crumbled or sliced.
Because getting sick is a big deal. When visible mold is present on cheese, its tentacles (called "threads") have likely penetrated deep into your food, contaminating even those parts that look mold-free. In most cases, the best decision is to chuck the cheese with the mold. Besides, harmful bacteria, such as listeria, brucella, salmonella and E. Coli can grow along with the mold.
But there are exceptions to the rule. Phew. Good news! Hard block cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar, Colby or Swiss can be saved by cutting away an inch of cheese all the way around the moldy spot. Be sure to keep your knife out of the mold so it doesn't contaminate the other parts of the cheese.
5.) How do I prevent cross-contamination when using a cutting board?
Also, the individual preparing the food should wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Hand washing is obvious after you've used the bathroom or changed a dirty diaper but what about touching your phone, keypad or remote control? I once observed a person whom I assumed quite sanitary handle their dogs leash and then go right back to chopping up vegetables. This is the same leash I had seen dragged through piles of dog poop just moments before.
Plastic boards are ideal to cut your fruits and vegetables on and are easy to clean and sanitize. Bacteria don't penetrate the surface and can be washed away in the dishwasher. However, when your board does get scarred by daily use of a sharp knife, it may be time to toss. The knife cuts fracture your board, creating a microscopic web of fissures below the surface which provide a safe harbor for bacteria. When a plastic board becomes scraggly enough to snag your dishcloth when you wash it, throw it out.
Whether you use the dishwasher or hand wash, stand the board on end and let it dry. Air flow is important. Let your cutting boards dry completely before stacking or putting them away in cabinets or you’ll just trap moisture and bacteria.
Have a kitchen cat?
So even if surfaces appear clean to the naked eye, it's the unseen that causes the harm. There's no way of knowing when he might have jumped on the countertops with those questionable paws. I sterilize all kitchen surfaces and the table prior to prepping and eating food. Paper towels are the hero here, I'd never risk cross contamination with my sponge. (And sponges are pretty gross, too!)
6.) What temps should meats be before they are consumed?
You guessed it, I needed a food thermometer to know for sure if the meat was cooked. I didn't own one at the time. Nowadays, I wouldn't touch meat, especially poultry or pork without checking the internal temp of the meat.
Beef, pork and veal, along with lamb roasts, steaks and chops should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F. Ground beef, veal, lamb and pork should be cooked to at least 165 degrees F., while all poultry should be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees F.
The key to it all is really a food thermometer. A real lifesaver.
7.) Defrosting meat on the counter is okay...right?
Ditto for defrosting meat in hot water in the sink. It's a no-go.
The reason is simple, as soon as meats begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 degrees F., bacteria that may have been present before freezing can being to multiply. Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water.
The best practice when thawing frozen food is to defrost it in the fridge where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature.
In the refrigerator, ground beef, stew meat, and steaks may thaw within a day. Bone-in parts and whole roasts may take 2 days or longer! Once the raw beef thaws, it will be safe in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. All other cuts of beef can be refrigerated safely for 3 to 5 additional days before cooking.
You can also safety thaw meat in the microwave, though be careful since your microwave tends to actually start to cook the meat before it's completely thawed.
One meaty bonus tip...
According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, rinsing your raw beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey or veal before cooking is a big no. Any bacteria lurking on meat when it comes out of the package will die when cooking!