It only takes two hours, sometime less, for illness-causing bacteria to grow in perishable foods unless you refrigerate them? And, if the temperature is 90 ?F or higher, which in Louisiana can happen just about any time of the year, that time is cut in half. By refrigerating foods promptly and properly, you avoid this dangerous bacteria growth and help your family stay safe from food poisoning at home.

Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.

Cold temperatures slow the growth of the bacteria that causes illness. That's why it's important to chill food promptly and properly. Not sure how? Follow these tips:

  • Make sure your fridge and freezer are set to the right temperature. Your fridge should be between 40 and 32 ?F, and your freezer should be 0 ?F or below.
  • It's not enough for the temperature to be correct. You also must pack your refrigerator with care. To chill food in a way that slows bacteria growth, cold air must be able to circulate. To make sure that's possible don't over-stuff your fridge.
  • Move perishable foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours. When the outside temperature is warm, cut this time down to one hour. If you live in an area that makes it impossible to do so, plan your grocery trips strategically. Wait until the end of your shopping trip to get perishable items, and bring an ice chest to store these items on the ride home.
  • Remember to put away leftovers within two hours as well. By dividing leftovers into several clean, shallow containers, you'll allow them to chill faster.

Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

Many people are surprised to learn that bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature, which makes thawing or marinating foods on the counter one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family.

To safely thaw food safely, choose one of these options instead:

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. This is the safest way to thaw meat, poultry and seafood. Simply take the food out of the freezer and place it on a plate or pan that can catch any juices that may leak. Normally, it should be ready to use the next day.
  • Thaw in cold water. For faster thawing, you can put the frozen package in a watertight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. If you choose this route, be sure to change the water every 30 minutes. It's also important to note that food thawed this way should be cooked immediately.
  • Thaw in the microwave. Food can be thawed quickly in the microwave. To do this, follow instructions in your microwave's owner's manual for thawing. As with thawing in cold water, food thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Cook without thawing. If you don't have enough time to thaw food, it is safe to cook foods from a frozen state. Just remember that the cooking time will be approximately 50 percent longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.

To marinate food safely, always marinate it in the refrigerator.

Know when to throw food out.

The kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect the look, smell or taste of food. So, it's impossible to determine if harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods by only considering the color, taste or smell.

Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow by checking the Safe Storage Times chart. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out!