Just like us, bacteria need food and water to grow and multiply. They also need a comfortable living environment, not too cold and not too hot. Bacteria that cause food borne illnesses are commonly found in foods we eat. So how do we keep this food safe to eat? By making it hard for bacteria to grow, multiply, or survive by how we handle food. Along with handwashing, keeping foods at the right temperature is an important part of proper food safety. Bacteria grow best between 40 °F and 140 °F. They can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. It only takes a few bacteria to make you very sick. To prevent bacteria from growing in your food, follow these steps when storing and cooking food.
Storing Food at the Right Temperature
From farm to table, keeping foods at the right temperature keeps bacteria from growing. Raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods all need to be chilled or frozen to prevent bacteria from growing. Keeping food below 40°F slows or stops bacteria growth.
Cooking Food to the Right Temperature
When we’re ready to eat, cooking food will kill any bacteria that may be living on or in your food. Always cook meat, poultry, fish, and egg dishes to the safe minimum internal temperature. Checking the temperature with a thermometer is the only way to be certain that food has reached the correct temperature.
Cooking will not destroy any toxins that have been made by bacteria in food as they grow. This is why storing food at the right temperature is important to prevent bacteria from growing and producing toxins.
Storing Leftovers at the Right Temperature
Once you’ve cooked a meal, refrigerate any leftovers right away in shallow containers. Putting a large pot of soup in the fridge may not cool off quickly enough to keep bacteria from growing.
As a rule of thumb, food should only be left at room temperature for 2 hours total, including in the cart while shopping, on the ride home from the store, during preparation, and during meals. When the temperature is over 90°F, food should only be out for 1 hour. By taking care to keep food out of the danger zone, you can keep germs from growing and making you sick.