TRAVERSE CITY — A new year is a time to make resolutions, and it can also be an opportunity for people to commit to food safety practices.
MSU Extension Food Safety Educator Kara Lynch said people should follow the “two-hour rule” after cooking a meal and when handling leftovers. This means refrigerating or freezing food within two hours, and only reheating something once.
“It’s a basic food safety rule to keep it [food] out of the danger zone,” Lynch said.
Pathogens grow the fastest in this zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Different foods, Lynch said, cool at different rates. For instance, soup may take longer than two hours to cool. Instead of leaving it on the counter, Lynch suggests putting the pot in an ice bath in the sink and then into storage containers.
“Refrigerators are made to maintain temperatures, not cool large quantities,” she said. “Spread it out; don’t stack containers in the fridge.”
Once a food becomes leftover, Lynch said, it should be reheated and eaten with three or four days.
“It depends on what your ingredients are,” she added.
A cook can preserve dishes if they know they will not consume them within several days. Lynch said preservation options like freezing or canning can help “reduce food waste.”
Lynch said people can refer to the USDA FoodKeeper mobile application for information on how long to keep leftovers, recall notices, cooking guidelines and more resources.
Additionally, the MSU Extension offers free food preservation classes online at 1 and 6 p.m. Thursdays.
A weekly food safety question-and-answer session begins at 1 p.m. Mondays, starting Jan. 17.
Visit canr.msu.edu/food_preservation/events for a complete schedule and more details.
District Health Department No. 10 Environmental Health Supervisor Lori Simon said it is important for people to know how to properly handle food and leftovers.
Many like to cook a big meal, intending to save some for later.
This can work well with soup. Simon said she often makes a pot and then leaves it in their garage fridge to cool. She then portions the soup into shallow containers, less than 2 inches deep.
These can be refrigerated or labeled with the date and contents and then frozen.
Frozen foods usually last about six months, though Simon said the quality decreases over time.
“With the cost of food today, you want to use up all your food so you don’t waste anything,” she said. “You don’t want the food to get old; you want to be able to use it.”
Following these food safety tips, she said, can help prevent food poisoning.
Approximately 48 million people every year get sick from a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s best to follow the two-hour rule so you don’t make yourself sick,” Simon said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a meat and poultry hotline from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday. Call 1-888-674-6854 or email MPHotline@usda.gov with food safety questions.