The key to limiting bacteria growth in food is proper storage and preparation.
How often do you go to the grocery? Some would go once a week, others once a month. Storing huge quantities of food has become a practice for many people. This is the norm for those who have a busy lifestyle. The only problem with this is that we prepare food using ingredients that are not fresh anymore. Food tends to go bad if stored for a long time. Because of this, the danger of bacteria growth increases. We’re more at risk of contracting food-related illnesses.
The solution to this problem is simple, proper food preservation. Also, you need to plan ahead of time and determine how fast a certain ingredient goes bad. So, to better understand this, we need to know the basics of how bacteria multiply.
Things to remember:
- Like us, bacteria need to feed on food. So, it’s automatic that once we have food, there’s a possible bacteria growth.
- Bacteria likes food that is neutral to somewhat acidic. But they hate very acidic food like lemons and vinegar. The food that they will thrive in are meats, some types of fruits, and vegetables.
- Another factor to consider in bacteria growth is the temperature. Between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it is known as the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ). You need to make sure that your food exposure to this temperature is limited.
- Time is another factor that you need to consider in bacteria growth. The longer the food stays in the TDZ, the merrier the bacteria becomes. Standard protocol is to put food away within two hours after eating. If the weather is hot, limit it to an hour.
- Just like how we need oxygen to breathe, bacteria need oxygen to grow. Well, others prefer climates without oxygen like the botulinum toxin. Make sure that when you buy canned goods there are no dents or swelling.
- Lastly, bacteria need moisture to grow. When you store rice grains, bacteria don’t accumulate. But when you add water, bacteria will flourish. For cold and moist food make sure that they’re kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. For hot food go for 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
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How fast do bacteria multiply?
How often do you cook? Are you the type to have different types of food for each meal? Are you the type who cooks one type of food for lunch and dinner? Most of the time, we would have leftovers that we store in the fridge. The more times you cook, the more possibility that you’ll have more leftovers.
Leftovers are the breeding hub of bacteria. Raw ingredients are already exposed to heat, moisture, and elements where bacteria mature. It’s just a matter of hours before it goes bad. So how fast do bacteria multiply in food?
According to experts, bacteria spreads at an incredibly fast rate. If you leave your food out at room temperature for a long time, the risk of multiplying bacteria is high. Microbes like Salmonella Enteritidis and Escherichia can cause food poisoning. These are some of the bacteria that can grow on your food.
So, how long are we talking about? Bacteria doubles every 20 minutes when placed in the temperature danger zone. Wow, that is fast. Just imagine if you leave your food out for 20 minutes, you’ll have to deal with double the number of bacteria. Like what we said earlier, make it a habit to refrigerate your food within two hours after eating. During the summer season, be more attentive. Refrigerate your food within an hour after eating since the temperature is warm.
Are you curious about how your food becomes contaminated? There are four ways where bacteria grow which can lead to food poisoning.
Starting from the production of ingredients
Food can be contaminated for as early as growing plants and raising animals. If dirty water is used to water the field, its produce will also be contaminated. From this point, fruits and vegetables are already exposed to bad bacteria. It makes you wonder, is this fruit that I’m eating clean?
Processing ingredients for grocery stores
From the fields and farm to your local grocery, that process in between can make or break your food. If a pig is slaughtered in a dirty slaughterhouse, the pork belly that you brought from the mart will have germs. Whatever germs that come with the final product, may go into your food.
Distribution of refrigerated meat and frozen products
The distribution also plays a crucial part in preventing the food from contamination. Yes, the pig is raised healthily. Yes, it’s processed and stored properly. But if the refrigerated meat product sits in the loading dock for too long, then it’s contaminated. Waiting for refrigerated products to melt will cause bacteria growth. That in return can soil the food.
Preparation from the kitchen to the plate
If your sick please rest and don’t cook. There is a high chance of you spreading germs to your food. You don’t want your family to be sick right? Also, if you think it’s okay to use the same chopping board for meat and vegetables, no, your wrong. If you do this, chances are the bacteria from the raw meat will also spread to the vegetables.
What is a high-risk food?
If you don’t have the time to make an elaborate meal, ready to eat foods are saviors. Canned goods are very convenient especially if your living alone and you don’t have the time to cook. But did you know, those types of foods are considered high-risk? So, what are high risk-foods? They are foods that give a place for bacteria to grow and multiply.
Some of them include:
- Sauces, Stocks, soups, and gravy
- Cooked meat and fish
- Dairy products like cheese, yogurt, cream, and foods containing dairy
- Cooked rice
While there are high-risk foods, there are foods that are less prone to bacteria growth. They are the foods that have higher salt, sugar, and acid content. Also, those with low water content. You don’t need to refrigerate these foods unless you already opened them or washed them.
Some of them include:
- Bread and most baked goods
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Honey, Jam, and Preserves
If you live in America, you have to store eggs in the refrigerator. Don’t leave them on the counter. Unlike in some European countries, chickens in America are not vaccinated against Salmonella. Also, eggs distributed in Europe are not washed, making them less susceptible to germs. Once you wash an egg, its protective layer against germs is also removed.
Follow the two-hour rule. Also, make sure that you use pasteurized eggs for recipes that need undercooked eggs. You don’t want to experience Salmonella poisoning for your eggnog, right? Also, be careful of uncooked dough. No matter how good it is, it still has raw eggs which is also a trigger for Salmonella poisoning.
To avoid any type of food poisoning, you need to know how to store and reheat food properly. Even if you know that you cooked the food thoroughly, there are still chances for bacteria to grow. To store leftovers, put them in a shallow container. Then set the fridge to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours.
Cooking frozen food is hard especially when it’s rock solid. So, when you thaw makes sure that you don’t thaw on the counter. The food may come in contact with germs and cause bacteria growth. Put it in a bowl of cold water and place it on the sink. Just change the water every 30 minutes.
So, how do you reheat? Make sure the food is heated until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until steaming and hot. If you missed the 2-hour mark before you placed it in the frigid don’t waste your time reheating. No matter how much you reheat or boil, it won’t kill the bacteria and make it safe for consumption. It’s best of you to throw that out since you don’t know the dangers that it may entail.
What are the 4 C’s of good food hygiene?
Food safety is important especially if you’re the one preparing the meal. Most people think that diarrhea or food poisoning comes outside of the kitchen. Well, it’s more likely to develop inside when the kitchen practices poor hygiene. Food poisoning is a direct result of improper hygiene for foods like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
It is important to follow the proper food preparation protocols to ensure that the food is clean. So, here are the 4 Cs of food hygiene that you need to follow.
Cross-contamination: Separate different variants of ingredients
Mishandling raw foods can cause bacteria to spread and multiply in the kitchen. You can prevent this by storing raw meat, seafood, and poultry separate from other foods. Also, as mentioned before, use separate chopping boards. You can also wash it in between cutting raw meat and fresh vegetables and fruits.
Doing simple things like proper washing of hands and utensils with hot soapy water will decrease cross-contamination. This also includes plates so that the bacteria, if any, from the previous meal will be gone.
If you’re a kitchen staff, make sure that juices from raw meat do not drip to other foods when stored in the fridge. You can place them in a sealed container or plastic bags to avoid this. Don’t use marinades for raw foods as sauces unless you boil them beforehand.
Cleaning: Keeping the kitchen and the ingredients germ free
Washing your hands and cleaning your station is the most important part of meal prep and cooking. Unfortunately, most people skip this and go straight to the next. Although we cannot see, smell, or taste bacteria it is growing in number. When we consume contaminated food, it can cause food-related illnesses.
To prevent this, make sure that you wash your hand thoroughly before handling food. Use hot soapy water and wash for 20 seconds before drying them with a clean towel.
For fruits and vegetables, rinse them using tap water to remove the surface where germs live. For storage spaces like the fridge or cupboards, you need to clean them at least once a week. Use hot soapy water as well to ensure that the germs are gone.
Cooking: Preparing and cooking of food properly
Chefs and cooking kitchen staff need to cook all the food properly. They need to ensure that all bacteria are killed before putting it on the plate. The food needs to be heated for an enough amount of time and enough amount of heat.
You cannot gauge whether the food is safe or not based on its color. For you to assess, use a clean food thermometer throughout the cooking process. With this, you’ll know that the food is cooked to the standards needed. Also, you don’t have to worry about serving an undercooked or overcooked meal.
When reheating food, it should be at around 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s with sauces, gravies, or soups, it should be brought to a boil. Most of us tend to go for microwaves when we want to reheat quickly. While its time saving, it does not heat the food evenly. There will be areas in the food that is cold and that’s where bacteria grow. You don’t want to have food poisoning just because you microwaved last night’s beef stew, right?
Chilling: Storing food at the right temparature
Certain types of foods need to be stored in the fridge. Do you remember the high-risk foods? Those are the ones that you should give priority to when storing in your fridge. At room temperature, some kinds of bacteria can double in number every 30 to 40 minutes. This gives you more chance of contracting an illness from the food that you’ll eat.
Storing food in a fridge that is not cold is useless. Unfortunately, some consumer fridge is not cold enough to keep the bacteria at bay. You need to have a fridge that is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many people believe that you should cool your food before storing it. Well, the truth is it’s better to immediately put food in the fridge after eating. The heat will not damage the fridge. Also, you should not thaw food at room temperature. Instead, defrost it in the fridge.