By Noelle Carter
LOS ANGELES — A salmonella outbreak has been linked to chicken from three Foster Farms processing facilities in California, sickening nearly 300 people in multiple states and triggering a public health alert.
Cooks everywhere should remember the steps to protect against food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, which is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting that can last four to seven days.
The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “reminds consumers to properly handle raw poultry in a manner to prevent contamination from spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces.” Whenever you decide to work with chicken — or any high-risk foods, including raw or lightly cooked eggs, other poultry and ground meats and unpasteurized milk — here are seven safety tips to keep in mind:
1) Keep meat cold: The USDA recommends storing meat at 40 degrees or below. When you buy meat at the store, purchase it last and bring it home quickly to refrigerate and keep it out of the “temperature danger zone” at which bacteria flourish.
2) Watch your temperatures: If not using within a day or two, meat should be frozen. Thaw frozen meat under refrigeration — do not leave it out on a counter to defrost. Likewise, store eggs away from the door and toward the back of the refrigerator to keep them cold.
3) Guard against leaks: Seal and properly store: Make sure the meat is fully wrapped (place it in a plastic bag before buying) so raw juices do not leak and potentially contaminate other groceries. At home, store raw meats at the bottom of the refrigerator, below items like fruits, vegetables, breads and cheese, to prevent possible contamination from leakage. Placing meat on a rimmed baking sheet or plate can also help prevent leakage.
4) Wash, wash, wash: Wash your hands and all surfaces before and after handling meat.
5) Clean up your work area: Be sure to thoroughly clean any surfaces that came in contact with the meat. There is controversy about whether chicken should be rinsed off in a sink. If you decide to do so, make sure you scrub down the sink area, and any nearby areas that may have been splashed by contaminated water.
6) Swap out your utensils: Do not use utensils or equipment on cooked foods that were previously used on raw foods. This includes cutting boards, tongs and plates. Make sure all items are cleaned thoroughly before using on cooked foods.
7) Cook to a safe temperature: Keep in mind that high-risk foods can harbor bacteria. When an animal is slaughtered, the surface of the meat can be exposed to bacteria. As the meat is ground, this bacteria can spread, contaminating the ground meat throughout. Cook meats and eggs to a safe internal temperature, and check the temperature for meats using a meat thermometer. For chicken, poultry and any ground meats, cook to at least 165 degrees (well-done).