BY KIM HUGHES –
As college students are now living on their own, they may have carried a microwave, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven. Unfortunately, many do not know the food safety concerns that need to be considered when cooking with these appliances.
Most college students eat whenever and whatever is convenient. Even if that means eating pizza from the box that was left out overnight the next morning for breakfast.
Perishable food should never be left out of the refrigerator more than two hours, one hour in very hot temperatures. Foodborne bacteria that may be present on these foods grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F and can double in number every 20 minutes.
If your student lives in a dorm, they may have trouble getting their food hot enough when using a microwave. This could be due to the fact that in a large building like a dorm, electrical equipment such as computers, toaster-ovens, hair dryers, and irons compete for current and reduce the electrical wattage of a microwave.
To compensate, set the microwave for the maximum time given in the instructions. Avoid using an extension cord with the microwave because power is reduced as it flows down the cord.
Most college students love to receive “care packages” from home. Include shelf-stable, microwavable entrees. These foods are not frozen and will stay fresh without refrigeration for about 18 months. Canned and dried meats and fish are safe to mail. Bacteria can’t grow in foods preserved by removing moisture.
Preparing safe food takes just four basic principles to keep in mind. These include: Wash hands and surfaces often, before you begin to cook or reheat something, and after you handle any raw foods. Also clean the surfaces often where you are preparing the foods.
Separate raw meat, poultry, and egg products from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. Never place your cooked hamburgers on the same plate that you used to carry them to the grill.
Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present.
And lastly, refrigerate everything promptly.
If you have additional questions, or would like to receive free information with food thermometer guidelines and temperatures, contact the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture in Polk County by calling 479-394-6018 or coming by 211 DeQueen Street in Mena.