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Handle with Care (part 2)

Buyer Beware

Careful shopping is very important and, for the home cook, the beginning of the food chain. Always shop at busy places where food probably moves quickly and is likely to be fresh. Avoid wilted and discoloured fruit and vegetables, damaged cans and packets, meats and cheeses that are discoloured and any place that does not appear clean and well-maintained. While most of us are on budgets, a poor saving is food that the family does not like, large amounts of anything that cannot be used or stored in a reasonable time, and second-grade produce. Impulse buying wastes money too, so shop alone if possible and after a satisfying meal.

Cooking


Minced meat, rolled roasts and whole poultry or meat on the bone should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 75C. Flat cuts of meat, like steak may be cooked rare as high heat kills bacteria where they are present, on the exterior.

Storage

Depending on the size of your cupboards or pantry and your fridge, your shopping and storage will differ. Following are some general guidelines for food storage. Most Australian products now carry 'Use by' dates which are often only a guide. Some food may be  fine to use after the date, but be cautious. Check for signs of spoilage.

  • Flour, grains, pasta, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes - store at room temperature, airtight and
    in a cool dry place. Freezing or refrigerating will extend the life of these foods.
  • Dried herbs and spices - store airtight away from heat and light. Replace after a year.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables - most should be  stored in the refrigerator, usually lower down or in a crisper basket.
  • Exceptions are whole pumpkins, watermelon, and pineapple, or apples, citrus fruit, potatoes, carrots and onions, all of which should be stored in a cool place until needed. Potatoes should be kept in the dark so they do not sprout and turn green. Some fruits like avocados may be ripened at room temperature by placing in a paper bag with an apple. Mushrooms should be refrigerated in a paper bag to avoid sweating in plastic. Avoid washing fruit until just before use as it will spoil more quickly. (See box on page.... to see which vegetables and fruit may be stored together).
  • Meat and poultry - keep loosely wrapped in the meat-keeping section of the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze until needed. Fish should be loosely wrapped in paper, refrigerated and used soon after purchase. Freezing may spoil some types of fish. Seafood will sweat if refrigerated in plastic.
  • Dairy products - cheese should be wrapped lightly in paper and kept refrigerated. Occasionally mould will form on hard cheese, but this can usually be sliced off with no damage to the remaining cheese. Soft cheeses have a much shorter life and should be treated very carefully. Butter should always be refrigerated as it can become rancid from overheating.
  • Oils - keep refrigerated or in a cool place. Olive oil may become thick in the fridge but quickly thins again at room temperature.
  • Sauces and pickles - many carry a direction on the label that they should be refrigerated after opening and some should be used within a certain time.
  • Cake and biscuits - store airtight at room temperature, or freeze. Butter icings freeze best as water-based icing may become brittle.
  • Bread - store, lightly wrapped in a wooden or earthenware container, or freeze until needed. Refrigerating will hasten staleness.
  • Eggs - store, refrigerated until use.

Freezing

This is possibly one of the best ways to preserve food for longer periods of time. In general, fresh meats may be frozen for 4-6 months, cured meats 2-4 months, shellfish 1-2 months, bread and baked goods 6 months and fruits and vegetables 10-12 months. Food should be tightly wrapped in plastic or stored in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. Thaw food at room temperature or in the refrigerator, taking care that it does not spoil, or defrost in a microwave. If there is a power blackout, do not panic. Leave the freezer shut and your food should remain frozen for up to 48 hours. If you want to refreeze food that was frozen, it must first be cooked, otherwise the risk is too great that bacteria may have started to multiply in the thawed food.

Room Temperature

Unfortunately a room that is comfortable for us is also very cosy for germs and bacteria, and some foods are more hospitable than others to these tiny trouble-makers. Dairy foods, custards, eggs, legumes and meats of all descriptions are prime culprits, so if you are having a party or a barbecue be aware of this and refrigerate food as soon as you are finished with it. Even an hour at an ambient temperature (between 5C and 60C) can send bacteria levels skyrocketing. When cooking, make sure that all dishes to be eaten later are chilled quickly, and reheat cooked food to at least 75C as quickly as possible. Do this by plunging casseroles or containers in a sinkful of icecubes, then refrigerating promptly. Flies can carry the germs that start the spoilage process so keep them away from any food left in the open.

Eating Out

Unfortunately some  food places do not take as much care of their product as they should. Be aware of the foods that spoil easily and check that takeaway foods are being kept at the right temperature -  cold foods should be under 4C and hot foods over 60C. Buy from busy shops that probably sell out every day and don't hold food over from day to day; watch the staff to see if they appear clean and are practicing hygienic food handling - use of tools rather than hands, wear hairnets, and wash their hands regularly. Wash or peel fruit and choose food that is cooked quickly and at a high heat, such as fish or stirfries, rather than something that is left sitting in a food bar for hours
 

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