Food Safety for College Students

College students are under a lot of pressure and they often get their meals the quickest and easiest way possible. When it comes to safely preparing meals, many college kids simply don’t know what it takes to make the grade in food safety, and many end up with a foodborne illness.
When students pack up for college, they take along the basics — TV, laptop, MP3 player and cell phone. Many students will also arrive at school with a microwave oven, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven in tow. Most students, however, don’t know there are food safety considerations when cooking with these appliances.

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College students are under a lot of pressure and they often get their meals the quickest and easiest way possible. When it comes to safely preparing meals, many college kids simply don’t know what it takes to make the grade in food safety, and many end up with a foodborne illness.
Likewise, with tons of social activities going on like football games and late night study sessions, it can be easy to forget about food safety. But, there is nothing worse than missing out on that huge championship game or major exam all because you are sick from foodborne illness.

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The Basic Steps to Food Safety

  • Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, and their juices, away from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and egg products need to be cooked to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.
  • Chill. Refrigerate food promptly. Do not leave food at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F (32.2°C).
food_safety_clean_separate_cook_chillImage Source: Shutterstock

Food Safety 101

Bacteria that contaminate food and cause foodborne illnesses are everywhere. Follow these basic safety tips to keep you safe.

1. Wash Hands and Surfaces Often

Wash your hands often, especially during these key times when germs can spread.
Keep kitchen surfaces clean by washing counters, cutting boards and equipment with soap and water immediately after use. Sanitize with a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon liquid household bleach per quart of water, especially after contact with raw meats.

USDA-5steps_handwashingMedia Credit: USDA

2. Prevent Cross-Contamination

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs:

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.
  • Wash thoroughly all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs before using them again. Use hot, soapy water.
cross-contamination-food-safetyImage Source: Shutterstock

3. Reduce Time in the Temperature Danger Zone

The “Danger Zone” for most foods is between 40°F and 140°F. Bacteria grow most rapidly in this range of temperatures, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

Two Hour Rule - Food Safety

4. Cook Foods to a Safe Temperature

Using a thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine that meat and egg dishes are cooked thoroughly. These foods must be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to destroy any harmful bacteria that may have been in the food.
Cook to the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures recommended by the USDA:

Category Food Temperature (°F)  Rest Time 
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
Duck & Goose 165 None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
Eggs & Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolks and
white are firm
Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
Casseroles 165 None
Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None

Food Storage Safety: Refrigerator & Freezer

The right temperatures slow the growth of dangerous bacteria. Put a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and adjust the refrigerator temperature control, if necessary. Put a second thermometer in the freezer. Your refrigerator should register at 40°F (4°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C).

Use ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods within a few days. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance bacteria has to grow.

Food Refrigerator Freezer
Note: Foods kept in the freezer longer than recommended are safe, but their quality may not be as good.
Bacon (opened) 5-7 days Not recommended
Bacon (unopened) 2 weeks 1 month
Beef roasts & steaks, raw 3-5 days 6-12 months
Cheese – hard types 6-12 weeks 6-12 months
Cheese spreads 3-4 weeks Not recommended
Deli-sliced luncheon meats 3-5 days 1-2 months
Eggs – fresh in shell 3-5 weeks Not recommended
Eggs – hard-cooked 1 week Not recommended
Egg, tuna and macaroni salads 3-5 days Salads made with mayonnaise do not freeze well.
Gravy and meat broth 1-2 days 2-3 months
Ground beef & stew meat, raw 1-2 days 3-4 months
Ham slices (fully cooked) 3-4 days 1-2 months
Hotdogs and luncheon meats (unopened) 2 weeks 1-2 months
Hotdogs, luncheon meats (opened) 3-7 days 1-2 months
Ice cream 2 months
Meat (cooked) 3-4 days 2-3 months
Milk (fresh) 5-7 days Not recommended
Pizza 3-4 days 4-6 months
Pork roasts & chops, raw 3-5 days 4-6 months
Poultry (cooked) 3-4 days 4-6 months
Poultry (raw) 1-2 days 9-12 months
Salad dressings (opened) 3 months Not recommended
Soup – meat added 1-2 days 2-3 months
Soup – vegetable 3-4 days 2-3 months
Yogurt 7 days Not recommended
Fruits (fresh):
Apples 3 weeks Fruits may need ascorbic acid to prevent browning when frozen, and the addition of sugar for best quality. Store in freezer containers.
Grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges 2 weeks
Melons 1 week
Grapes, peaches, pears, plums 3-5 days
Berries, cherries 2-3 days
Vegetables (fresh):
Carrots 2 weeks Most vegetables need to be blanched or cooked before freezing to maintain quality.
Celery, cabbage, chilies, lettuce head (unwashed), peppers, tomatoes 1 week
Beans, broccoli, greens, peas, summer squash 3-5 days
Mushrooms, okra 1-2 days
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