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Safe Summer Eating

Growing up, even before my formal nutrition education, I was conscious of food safety. My meat had to be extremely well cooked - not just well done, rather "hockey puck." Thawing meat was sometimes an argument with family members who preferred to let is lay out on the counter half the day. Getting leftovers in the fridge wasn't necessary done in a timely manner and although I was quick to inform anyone who would listen about the danger zone, it didn't always mean the pot of chili got put away before it was completely cooked on the stove. My family was not lazy. In fact, I'm sure many families have similar cooking methods.

Admittedly, I may be up tight when it comes to food safety, but there are reasons behind my strong beliefs. Heat, humidity and the lack of a sanitized environment all contribute to the growth or transfer of unhealthy bacteria and pathogens. Food poisoning is caused by consuming contaminated food. Oftentimes people have the "flu" without realizing it is actually the cause of illness was actually contaminated food.

Food safety is an issue any time of the year, but in the summer we might be reminded of it more often when we picnic, have potlucks, grill and work with more fresh produce. People can take classes to be certified in food safety, such as ServSafe, so believe me, there is a lot I'm not sharing here. Those who are as up tight as myself (and I personally do not feel like this is a negative quality!) may be interested in checking out:, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) web site.

The abbreviated version on how to handle and prepare your food safely:

1. Wash your hands. With soap. I'm reminded of a four year old who went to the bathroom by himself, joyously ran out to tell mom who immediately asked, "did you was your hands?" "Yes!" he gleefully admits. "With soap?" mom persists. The little boy walked slowly back to the bathroom to properly clean. Soap helps kill germs that water alone cannot. Wash with soap. Wash before you start cooking, after you have touched meat, before you eat a meal, after touching a pet.

2. Thaw meat, including beef, poultry, fish and the like in the refrigerator. If you did not plan ahead and need to thaw in a hurry use a microwave on the defrost mode or place the food in a plastic bag and cover with cold, clean water.

3. Avoid cross contamination. This means cut meat up on one cutting board and vegetables on another or wash the cutting board between uses. Do not use the meat knife to cut the vegetables. Don't put cooked or grilled meats on the place that held the raw meat. Immediately clean up spills of meat juices with hot soapy water.

4. Refrigerate food as soon as you are finished eating it. The danger zone is the temperature between 41° and 140°. When food sits out in this temperature range, bacteria can grow quickly. It is recommended that food be refrigerated within two hours, ideally, leftovers refrigerated immediately after the meal is finished. Keep in mind, if leftovers are brought home for a restaurant they should not sit out longer than two hours, which includes your time at the restaurant.

5. Along the same line, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. This can be tricky at a picnic. Placing the serving bowl in a larger bowl of ice is an easy way to keep salads chilled. Additionally, simply keep the cold food refrigerated until ready to serve. Hot plates or slow cookers can keep hot foods hot when sitting out for a period of time.

6. Wash raw fruits and vegetables. Many, many hands have handle fresh produce before it arrives in your home.

Eat safe and enjoy!