Food & Nutrition Column

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Extension Educator Health Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

As I write this there are spring flowers blooming and it is warm. I know tomorrow it is supposed to be cold again, but the warmth means there is hope that spring really will get here soon! This wonderful spring weather means more of you are grilling and also eating outside so this is a good time to review some food safety rules.

Particularly in warm weather, if you could just throw the refrigerator under one arm and take it with you there wouldn’t be as many problems in keeping your food safe. This is because the best way to fight food poisoning is to keep perishable foods, especially meat and poultry, cold between preparation and serving. Why keep foods cold? At warm temperatures, like 40 degrees and over, food poisoning bacteria can begin to multiply and cause illness. At summer temperatures of 80 degrees and above, bacteria multiply very quickly. While food poisoning usually means uncomfortable intestinal flu-like symptoms, it can be serious in the young, the elderly, and people with other illnesses. The rarely occurring botulism of course is always serious.

Foodborne illness is a larger problem than you might think. Over 4 million people a year are affected by it. Plus, food poisoning bacteria are tough to deal with because you usually don’t even know they’re present. They are microscopic in size and you normally can’t see, smell, or taste them. So, for food safety, prevention is key. By observing the cold storage, sanitation, and thorough cooking rules, you can keep your food safe.

A good rule to begin with is to keep everything that touches the food clean. Stop and wash your hands before preparing food. Wash utensils, bowls, and countertops between working on each dish. Use a spoon, fork, or other kitchen utensil rather than your hands to mix food as much as possible. There is a lot of emphasis on clean hands because your hands continually pick up bacteria and other germs and these organisms dig in around the fingernails and in the creased skin of the hands. Only vigorous washing with hot, soapy water prepares hands to safely deal with food.

The second food safety rule is to thoroughly cook your food. For complete safety, raw meat, poultry, and fish should be thoroughly cooked. You can follow the package instructions, use a cookbook for directions, and also use a meat thermometer.

If you are taking cold foods to a carry-in or picnic, refrigerate the food after you have prepared it.  Make sure to add some ice, frozen cooler keepers, or frozen food to your cooler to help keep food cold. Keep the cooler in the coolest place possible and never leave it in direct sun.

Plan to buy your perishable products last in the store when you are grocery shopping and then take them right home to the refrigerator. If you have to travel a distance it is a good idea to keep a cooler in your vehicle. Never leave perishable foods in a hot car while you run other errands.