Food safety: Take steps to protect your body from bad bacteria
They infect our wounds, poison our blood and upset our stomach, but not all bacteria are bad.
They also digest our food, maintain our atmosphere and break down our garbage. And they crop up everywhere — especially in food.
According to an article published on the Real Clear Science website, the recommended U.S. Department of Agriculture diet contains 1.26 billion microbes per day, which is about 1 billion more than the amount of microbes in the average U.S. diet — about 1.39 million. “Microbes” is a term that encompasses multiple forms of microscopic life, including bacteria, protists, some fungi and even infinitesimally small animals.
There is, however, a reason to be wary of bacteria — particularly when you’ve left a slab of steak or a carton of eggs outside of the refrigerator for an extended period of time. They can make people ill.
If a potentially hazardous food is left outside a refrigerator for more than 4 hours, it could grow enough bacteria to make someone sick.
“What we always recommend is keep it hot, keep it cold or don’t keep it long,” said David Sullivan, an environmental specialist with the Washington County Health Department.
Meats, poultry, seafood, dairy products and certain cooked vegetables and grains — like beans and rice — are all considered hazardous foods, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website.
“There are lots of factors that affect bacteria growth,” Sullivan said. “The type of food, the temperature, the moisture content of the food, whether it’s a high protein type of food.”
Bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and listeria — a bacteria that can grow in cold temperatures — are particularly concerning. Salmonella is typically associated with poultry products, and Sullivan recommends that individuals cook chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Hamburgers are breeding grounds for E. coli and should be cooked to at least 155 degrees.
Sullivan also said hot food typically needs to be kept above 135 degrees and cold foods should be kept at 41 degrees or less.
Leftovers add another layer of difficulty. Once potentially hazardous food is opened or used, Sullivan recommends that it be refrigerated and used within 7 days.