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Make a resolution to practice food safety in the New Year

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This past year I’ve frequently written in this column about food safety at home and in restaurants. This week I’m reviewing of the basic concepts by suggesting some “food safety” New Year resolutions that can help prevent you or a family member from getting a food-borne illness.
Another good thing: These resolutions may be easier to keep than most and they might save you a trip to the doctor or hospital.
•I will wash my hands and encourage kids to wash their hands before eating.
This includes when eating at restaurants or fast food places. If soap and water isn’t available, keep a hand sanitizer in your purse, pocket or car. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important things you can do to avoid getting sick and spreading germs.
•I will wash my hands and all food preparation surfaces with soap and water before I begin to cook. I will also wash my hands and surfaces with soap and water after touching raw meat, poultry or fish.  
Bacteria on raw meat, fish or poultry can contaminate other foods such as bread or lettuce that will not be cooked.
•I will buy and use a food thermometer.
It’s the only way to know if meat, poultry and fish are cooked safely. You can’t tell just by looking. Charts showing the correct cooking temperatures are available from the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at usda.gov or (888) 674-6854.
•I will buy and use an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and will check to make sure that the temperature is 40 degrees F. or less. In the freezer, I will make sure the thermometer reads 0 degrees F. or less. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures higher than 40 degrees F.
•I will not leave pizza sitting out on the table or my “doggie” bag in the car overnight. Remember the “two hour” rule. Foods should not be left out more than two hours at room temperature, or 1 hour if it is higher than 90 degrees F. When in doubt, throw it out.
•I will not feed my dog or cat old leftovers or take-out food that’s no longer fit for people. Animals can also be stricken with food-borne illnesses.
•I will not leave take-out or ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator so long that it’s forgotten.
You can’t tell by looking at or smelling if a food is unsafe. Remember the “four-day throw away rule. Never taste a food that you don’t know what it is or how long it has been in the refrigerator.
•I will not lick the spoon or the bowl of homemade cookie dough or cake batter made with raw eggs. Salmonella—an unpleasant and potentially dangerous illness can come from eating raw eggs—even one taste of raw dough could contain harmful bacteria.
•When grilling outdoors, I will use a clean plate for the cooked hamburgers, hot dogs or other meat or fish. I won’t use the same plate that held raw meat. Juices from raw meat, poultry or fish could contaminate your cooked food.
•I will always put an ice pack in my child’s lunch box and my own lunch bag if I have a perishable lunch, such as meat, poultry, fish, milk or eggs.
Foods in lunch boxes sitting in warm classrooms or offices could result in food-borne illnesses. Children younger than 10 are the most vulnerable.
•I will not save money by buying dented cans or cracked jars.
Never use food from damaged containers. This applies to containers that are leaking, bulging or badly dented. Do not use food from cracked jars with loose or bulging lids, canned food with a foul odor or any container that spurts liquid when you open it. It’s not worth taking a risk to save a few pennies.
•I will put meat and poultry packages in plastic bags at the meat counter before putting them in my grocery cart. Leaking packages from meat or poultry could contaminate other foods in the cart, leading to food-borne illnesses.
Best wishes for a happy and food safe 2013.
Adapted from a list originally developed by Susan Conley and Steven Cohan from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA.
Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 253-2610.