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A Recipe for Safely Preparing Food at Home during COVID-19

Apr 28, 2020

Ashley Eisenbeiser, MS, CFS, Senior Director, Food and Product Safety Programs, FMI

20171129-fmi-home-shoot-0512_edWhat’s for dinner? It is one of those age-old questions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the question has evolved and it’s not just what’s for dinner, but what’s for breakfast? Lunch? Snack? Dessert? Some families may be cooking more at home and the food that is in the fridge or pantry will dictate the answer. For others, food delivery and takeout has become the new normal. No matter what the answer is to that question, there is a common theme of where dinner will be…at home

Whether shopping in a store, receiving groceries at your doorstep, or preparing a meal at home, food safety is just as important today, as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Families can follow the recipe below for simple food safety steps to help protect themselves from foodborne illness.

Step 1: Shop Safely
Plan ahead – Make a list of what you need for the next 1-2 weeks. Buying food in bulk may help limit the number of trips you need to make to the store and the Food Keeper app can help families plan how much food to buy and how to store their food to minimize food waste. For resources on meal planning, shopping and food budgeting, visit the USDA SNAP ED website. Stay home if sick - Avoid shopping if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, cough, or shortness of breath.Disinfect cart handles – Bring your own wipes or use the wipes provided in the store to wipe down shopping cart handles.Keep your distance – Try to keep at least 6 feet away from other customers and employees.Wash your hands often, including before entering the store, when you are leaving the store and when you get home.Wear a clean cloth face covering – Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.Use a clean grocery bag and always use bags that are dedicated for groceries. If using a reusable bag, follow these guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting your reusable bags. Whether using a single-use bag or a reusable bag, always separate raw and ready-to-eat food to avoid cross contamination.Limit what you touch – Although neither food nor food packaging has been associated with transmission of COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution, only touch items that you intend on purchasing. Take preventive measures when receiving food delivery – Home-delivered food must be handled properly to prevent food poisoning.
Step 2: Store Food Safely 
Refrigerate or freeze food as soon as possible – Maintaining a home refrigerator temperature at 40 °F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Wondering how to properly store food in the refrigerator or freezer? Follow these cold food storage guidelines.
Step 3: Prepare Food Safely
Clean and sanitize surfaces often, including, prior to preparing food. Always follow the chemical label instructions and never consume cleaning chemicals. For more information, visit CDC Cleaning and Disinfection. Wash produce – Just before use, make sure you rinse your produce under running water. There is no need to wash packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.” Do not wash produce with soap, detergent, or chlorine as these products are not intended for consumption.Don’t cross-contaminate – Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods.Thaw food properly – Never thaw food at room temperature – harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. Thaw and marinate food in the fridge at 40°F or below.Cook food to safe temperatures – Use a calibrated food thermometer that has been clean and sanitized to ensure food is cooked to the proper internal temperature.
Step 4: Enjoy Food Safely
Proper handwashing - Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.Clean up - Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with after preparing food. Refrigerate leftovers promptly – Divide leftovers between small, shallow containers for quicker cooling and store in refrigerator at 40°F or below. Make sure that all leftovers are eaten within 3-4 days.

When you are spending more time in the kitchen cooking for loved ones, remember the food safety basics to keep your family healthy:  Clean – Separate – Cook – Chill

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