Using Winter Down Time to Review Food Safety

Reader Contribution by Mary Moss-Sprague

Okay, so the canning/food preservation season is probably over for most of us. Boo hiss! I love the gardening season. Those people living in warmer, Western states may still be harvesting goodies, but the majority of us are hunkered down for winter. Brrr!

However, these housebound times are perfect opportunities for learning and reviewing. Many of us use the time to do more “serious” cooking with our harvested summer goodies. And, it may sound weird, but even the most seasoned food preservers and cooks need to police themselves when it comes to food safety. Did you know that 80% of flu-like symptoms are actually caused by a food-borne illness? Even those of us committed to living green by raising and eating our own organic food are at risk of becoming sick from dangerous pathogens.

Just for fun, I’ve been going back through my master food preservation class notes and tests, looking for potentially helpful information to share. Get ready–I found many good reminders! So, how about taking a short quiz to test your mettle when it comes to general food safety? See if you pick the correct answer to the following (the answers are included at the end of the quiz).

1.If you have a large pan of hot, split pea soup that you want to save for later, youshould:

(a)Put it right from the stove into the refrigerator so it will cool fast.
(b) Take off the lid, let it cool on the counter, then refrigerate it.
(c) Set the pan of hot soup into a sink filled with ice water, and stir to cool (to about 100 deg. F), then refrigerate in a shallow pan.
(d) Put the hot pan in the freezer to cool quickly.

2.Leftovers should be reheated to what temperature to cool pathogens?

(a) 145 degrees
(b) 155 degrees
(c) 165 degrees
(d) 185 degrees

3.Which of these bacteria is known to grow at refrigerator temperatures?

(a) E. coli O157:H7
(b) Listeria
(c) Salmonella
(d) Staphylococcus aureus

4.Pregnant women and young children should avoid what food?
(a) Cooked hamburger
(b) Alfalfa sprouts
(c) Pasteurized orange juice
(d) Cheddar cheese

5.Which of these can be safely refrozen if the freezer stops running and all of the foods have thawed?

(a) Peas
(b) Strawberries
(c) Ice cream
(d) Pizza

ANSWERS: 1(c); 2(c); 3(b); 4(b); 5(b)

How did you do on this quiz? Do you understand how we arrived at those answers?

All of the questions cover important food-safety issues. The wise axiom “Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold” is a great reminder overall. However, Question #3 is an attention-grabber; it points a finger directly at deli/lunch meats. They can grow nasty bacteria (Listeria) even when “safely” refrigerated.Staphylococcus aureus can develop in something as innocent-looking as a pot of creamy seafood chowder in a buffet setting that’s not maintained at the right temperature (hot!). Boy, did my husband learn that the hard way! Now, he never takes the smallest sip of any cream-based soup without checking to see if it’s hot and steaming. 

Question #5 also is a head scratcher for some. But low-acid vegetables can easily harbor botulinum spores (found in water and soil throughout the world) when not kept properly frozen, so save the strawberries and pitch the rest! In case that doesn’t sound convincing, here’s a short horror story about botulism: after bringing home a foil-wrapped baked potato from a restaurant and leaving it on the kitchen counter overnight, a woman ate it. She spent the next six months on a respirator. While she narrowly escaped dying from eating that potato, she won’t be so lucky if it happens again. Surviving botulism is generally a one-time thing; you can only have one life-saving injection that first time. The next time, it’s curtains for you. This is a good warning to literally watch what we eat, huh?!

If you missed even one question, you may want to review your own food-handling procedures and remind other household members to do the same. This could easily prevent someone from becoming ill.

Next time, I’ll have more food safety issues to discuss. Meanwhile, happy and safe cooking and eating!

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