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story.lead_photo.caption Jenna Massie

February is American Heart Month and a good way to care for your heart is eating heart healthy-foods that have been prepared safely. Below are some tips on safe preparation and storage of foods.

To properly cook some foods, you will need a good food thermometer. These are especially important when cooking various meats. The United States Department of Agriculture suggests the follow temperatures:

Beef, pork, veal and lamb steaks (roasts and chops): 145F

Fish: 145F

Beef, pork, veal and lamb (ground): 160F

Egg dishes: 160F

Turkey, chicken and duck (whole, pieces, and ground): 165F

These are the safe internal temperatures to cook off the bacteria that can be found in dishes containing these foods. When reheating from refrigerator or freezer, they should be brought to 165F internally.

Bacteria grows rapidly between 41-135F. If food has been kept at room temperature for more than two hours — or one hour if the room temperature is above 90F — then the food should be discarded. This goes for food served hot or cold. Food should be rapidly cooled to 41F or less. It can be cooled in two stages for a total of six hours. Temperatures of 135F and higher should be cooled to about 70F in two hours and then cooled from 70-41F or less in four hours. To help with cooling, large portions of food should be divided into smaller portions for quicker cooling.

Food should be stored in food grade storage containers that are safe for freezing if desired. After properly cooling, leftovers should be covered, wrapped or sealed in airtight containers to prevent bacteria, keep moisture and preserve freshness. Leftovers are typically safe in the refrigerator for seven days or in the freezer for three to four months. Frozen food can have an incredibly long lifespan in the freezer, but it will start to lose moisture and flavor the longer it remains frozen. Storing abilities vary between food types, so it is best to do research before long-term storage.

There are many options for thawing frozen food. The safest, but longest, is thawing in the refrigerator. Once thawed, the food should be used within three to four days. Thawing with cold running water is a quicker method than the refrigerator, but it requires more attention and for the food to be cooked immediately. The fastest method is thawing in the microwave followed by cooking immediately. Reheating can be done without thawing the food beforehand, but it will take longer compared to non-frozen foods. It is perfectly safe to refreeze previously frozen food as long as the internal temperature reached 165F when reheated.

Food safety is an important part of cooking, especially when preparing meals for those you love. A little extra time in the preparation and storage of food really goes a long way toward the health and wellbeing of you and those you are cooking for.

Jenna Massie is an environmental public health specialist at the Cole County Health Department. She received her bachelor of science degree from University of Missouri Science and Technology. She currently conducts inspections of onsite wastewater systems, food establishments, lodging facilities and child care facilities for the county.

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