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Health Department encourages food safety

By STEVEN CALHOUN/Staff Writer

As temperatures rise and grill lids are lifted at barbecues and pool parties, it is important for cooks to refresh themselves on food safety guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, approximately 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The most common mistakes people make in the kitchen are not using gloves and failing to meet temperature requirements, according to public health environmentalist Pamela New.

New works with the Chilton County Health Department and said food safety is important in preventing foodborne illnesses. She said the most important things to remember are the prevention of cross contamination and washing hands before food preparation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled cooking guidelines and other food safety tips at foodsafety.gov.

The clean, separate, cook and chill steps for food safety are outlined on the site, and will help prevent contamination and illnesses.

Hands should be cleaned before cooking and after touching raw meats. Surfaces and utensils should be washed after each use to avoid the buildup of bacteria. Fruits and vegetables should be washed before eating them, but this is not recommended for meat, poultry or eggs.

Separate cutting boards and plates used in preparing meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Keep these items separate in the cart when shopping to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. Remember to separate these items in the refrigerator as well.

When cooking, remember to use a food thermometer and warm foods to the recommended safe temperatures. When microwaving, stir food halfway through heating and make sure the food reaches 165 F or higher.

There are special guidelines for grills and smokers. The internal temperature for a grill or smoker should stay between 225 and 300 F throughout the cooking process, and meats should reach their suggested internal temperatures and be checked with a meat thermometer.

More details about each step are available on the site.

There are also charts for how to store foods, how to thaw and cook meat and what to do with food if power goes out to the refrigerator.