HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – ABC27 is taking its weekly Restaurant Report segment one step further. Amanda St. Hilaire took a ServSafe restaurant food safety certification course and learned steps you can take at home to avoid getting yourself and others sick.

Although many believe that they will likely not get sick from the improper handling of food, the consequences of ignoring food safety can be severe. People have been rushed to the emergency room, sometimes in critical condition or in need of an organ transplant, as a result of foodborne illnesses.

“You don’t crash your car every time you drive it,” Penn State Extension Food Safety Educator Andy Hirneisen said. “But you wear your seat belt in case that happens. So you’re not necessarily going to get sick every time you handle food improperly ,but there’s a chance that it could happen and when it does happen it could be really, really devastating.”

Hirneisen says foodborne illness isn’t always obvious at first.

“You can get sick in as quick as 30 minutes, but it can also take up to six weeks to become ill from eating contaminated food,” Hirneisen said during the food safety course.

Avoiding cross-contamination of food is key. In your refrigerator, food should be stored in the following order from top to bottom: Ready-to-eat food, seafood, whole cuts of beef and pork, ground meat and ground fish, whole and ground poultry.

While preparing food, it is important to keep raw and ready-to-eat food away from each other. This can be done in several ways, including prepping food at different times, buying already-prepared food (such as pre-cut lettuce), and using designated, separate cutting boards and utensils for poultry, meat, and produce.

Temperature control is also an important factor in food safety. The “temperature danger zone” is 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. When food that requires heat or refrigeration is in that zone, it is more likely to grow harmful pathogens. As a result, hot food should be held at 135 degrees or above. Cold food should be stored at 41 degrees or below.

Thawing food at room temperature is not safe because of prolonged exposure to the temperature danger zone. You can safely thaw food under running water that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit or below, in the refrigerator, or in the microwave. If you choose to thaw in the microwave, food safety experts say you need to cook the food immediately after.

When cooking, the following foods are ready and safe to eat when they reach 165 degrees for 15 seconds: Poultry, stuffing made with fish, meat or poultry, stuffed meat, seafood, poultry, or pasta, and dishes that include previously cooked ingredients.

The following foods are ready and safe to eat when they reach 155 degrees for 15 seconds: Ground meat, injected meat, mechanically tenderized meat, ratites (such as ostrich and emu), ground seafood, and shell eggs that will be hot-held for service.

The following foods are ready and safe to eat when they reach 145 degrees for 15 seconds: Seafood, steaks/chops of pork, beef, veal, and lamb, commercially-raised game (bison), and shell eggs that will be served immediately.

The following foods are ready and safe to eat when they reach 145 degrees for 4 minutes: Roasts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb.

Fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes should be cooked to 135 degrees.

Safely cooling food can prevent harmful pathogens from growing. Your refrigerator likely won’t cool large meals fast enough, and the hot food could raise the temperature inside and put your other food at risk. Letting your food sit at room temperature first is also risky because that means it is sitting in the temperature danger zone.

Food safety experts say you can cool food over an ice bath in the sink or use an ice paddle to safely and quickly lower the temperature of your food.

If leftovers are stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, they should be safe to eat for seven days. Consider date-marking your food so you can better keep track of when it’s time to throw things away.

As far as cleanup goes, consider placing utensils face-down in the dishwasher and storing clean mugs and cups upside-down to prevent them from getting recontaminated. Towel-drying dishes can also lead to recontamination, so allowing dishes to air-dry is a safer alternative.

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