Picnic Safety Begins at Home
Salem Creekside Newsletter - September, 2015
Mayonnaise may get the bulk of the blame for summer-time food faux pas, but it's not the only bad actor. Cross-contamination, improper preparation and storage all play a role in determining whether a meal is stellar or stomach-turning. Food safety should begin long before you start to question the freshness of your sack lunch, or ponder the lifespan of a potluck potato salad; it boils down to keeping certain foods separate, clean and at the correct temperature, before, during and after preparation.
Start at the store.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria spread from one food source to another, this can happen in a variety of ways, it happens when harmful bacteria from foods such as raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood touches ready to serve products. Keeping foods such as breads, fruits, vegetables, grains and cereals separate from meats, poultry or seafood can help. This separation should begin at the grocery store or farmer's market – keep meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and eggs in separate bags from produce and anything else that won't be cooked. Most grocery stores have plastic bags available in the meat section that provide another layer of leak-protection, use them.
Keep cold things cold.
Especially in the summertime, it's wise to plan your errands so that grocery shopping is your last stop. You don't want fresh or frozen items deteriorating in a hot car. It's a good idea to refrigerate or freeze groceries within two hours; if the weather is very hot or your schedule precludes this, consider shopping when food safety guidelines can be followed and always have a backup plan in case you are delayed such as packing a cooler of ice in the trunk to buy yourself some time.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
The threat from cross-contamination doesn't end when you unpack the grocery bags. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in case of accidental leaks and consider sealing them up in a resealable container first. Keep eggs on a shelf and avoid the door storage as the door undergoes more temperature changes with each use and may not be the coldest place in the fridge. Keeping eggs in the original container also helps you keep track of the sell by date.
Keep it clean.
Hand washing is really is the answer to preventing the spread of most infections. Germs are spread by touching contaminated surfaces, food and people. Start by washing your shopping cart handle if there is a sanitizer available. Wash your hands when you return from the grocery store and wash them again after putting your food away. When cooking, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after touching meat, poultry or seafood and before touching produce, vegetables, or other ready-to-eat foods.
Use separate hand towels, dishes, knives and utensils for meats, poultry, and seafood and for cooked or raw foods. Pay attention to cutting boards after cutting raw meats on your board, first clean thoroughly with hot soapy water, then disinfect with a sanitizing solution according to manufacture directions and last rinse with clean water.
Know your temps.
Macaroni-, chicken- and egg-salad-lovers needn't despair every food (even mayo) has an ideal temperature for safe storage, cooking and the ever-present potluck table. Learn proper cooking and holding temperatures. If you're unsure about something, err on the side of caution and throw it out. For further info on food safety consult foodsafety.gov.
References cited: http://www.homefoodsafety.org/