With all of the holiday cooking this month, we thought we would revisit a previous post. This week, we’ll dive a little deeper into the topic of food safety and discuss “FAT-TOM”, and how remembering that can help reduce the chance of food poisoning!
The F stands for food – bacteria require nutrients to grow. Foods high in protein and carbohydrates, such as animal proteins and dairy foods, may be at a particularly high risk of bacterial growth.
A is for acidity – bacteria generally require a pH of 4.6 or higher to grow. Low-acid foods, such as meats, need to be properly cooked and processed since they can often be breeding grounds for bacteria. This is also the reason low-acid foods, like many vegetables, need to be pressure canned and not water bathe canned; without pressure canning, the low-acid environment makes the canned food susceptible to clostridium botulinum, the bacteria responsible for botulism.
T is for temperature – most bacteria grow in the “Temperature Danger Zone” between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and particularly well between 85- and 120-degrees. Through refrigeration and hot-holding, keep foods out of the Temperature Danger Zone as much as possible.
The other T is for time – certain bacterial cells responsible for food poisoning can double approximately every 20 minutes in the Temperature Danger Zone. That would mean, in 12 hours, 1 bacterium would become 68 billion bacteria! The “Cooking for Crowds” curriculum suggest leaving food that requires hot holding or refrigeration in the Temperature Danger Zone for no longer than 2 hours before consuming, and only one hours if it’s between 85 and 120 degrees.
O is for oxygen – while most bacteria require oxygen to grow, there are some bacteria that actually grow better in the absence of oxygen, such as the previously mentioned clostridium botulinum.
Lastly, M is for moisture – bacteria need water to grow. This is why dehydrating food can often lengthen how long food will be safe to eat. It’s also why salt and sugar, which binds with water molecules and make them unavailable for bacterial growth, are often used as food preservatives.