When you are charged with preparing meals, multiple factors come into play, regardless of whether the foods are cold or hot. However, a constant factor is that the bacteria that cause food poisoning thrive in the temperature range from 40 to 140 F. Therefore, it is essential to keep the cold meals cold and the hot meals hot. To keep foods in the safe temperature range, take different steps for foods above or below the danger zone.
Prepare cold vegetables fresh from the garden or refrigerator. Do not let them sit on the counter or in the car to warm up before preparation. Wash and scrub fresh vegetables in clean, running water with a vegetable brush used only for food. Use a clean cutting board and clean cutlery. Leave condiments such as mayonnaise or creamy salad dressing in the refrigerator until just before you mix them with the other ingredients.
Store cold foods properly if you will not serve them immediately, especially if you will be transporting them in a car. Submerge freshly sliced veggies in water in sealable bags or bowls. Tightly seal containers for cold items and store everything in the refrigerator or in a cooler with plenty of ice or cold packs to keep the food below 40 degrees F.
Serve cold meals directly from the refrigerator, cooler or preparation area. Don't give them time to come to room temperature. If the cold meal is served on a buffet table or at a picnic, keep the foods cold by nestling the serving dishes in larger pans of ice, or keep the food in a cooler with cold packs or ice. If the cold food is not kept in the safe temperature zone, observe the two-hour rule: Throw it away if it has been left in the danger zone for more than two hours. Throw the food away after one hour if it has been left outdoors in temperatures around 90 F.
Prepare raw food for hot meals on a clean cutting board with clean knives. Scrub vegetables in clean water with a vegetable brush. Cook raw meats and eggs to optimum temperatures. Use a meat thermometer to know when red meat reaches 160 F and poultry reaches 180 F. Cook eggs until they are firm throughout. Do not partially cook meats or eggs to finish cooking later. Cook vegetables until they are hot but still crisp.
Serve your hot meal immediately after cooking it. The flavor and appeal is highest at this point. Keep hot food at 140 degrees F or warmer for buffets or picnics. Use chafing dishes, warming trays or crockpots to keep the food at optimal temperature.
Store hot meal items in cold storage if you are not serving them within two hours. Divide the food into small portions in sealable, shallow bowls. Put the containers into the refrigerator or freezer immediately.
Reheat hot meals until they are hot throughout and steaming. If you use a microwave to reheat food, rotate the dish and stir the food often during the reheating process to make sure it's evenly heated.
Items you will need
- Vegetable brush
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knives
- Sealable bags
- Sealable bowls
- Pan of ice
- Chafing dishes
- Warming trays
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