Food safety tips for the summer
JAMAICANS really don't need to wait for summer to have a party or gathering, but the season is here and the party temperature is definitely rising — along with the sizzling heat, of course.
This means the colourful umbrellas, backyard furniture and grills will be making their way into the outdoors, picnic areas and beaches filled with friends and family, pooling together for a great, big potluck feast.
However, there is always that one nagging possibility that can ruin a rambunctious feast, and that is some food-borne disease that can emerge due to unsafe handling of the tons of fresh produce, fish, chicken, and other meat items.
Food safety is always on the front burner and as recently as April 19, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection service announced a recall of more than 62,000 pounds of raw beef produced by the Aurora Packing Company in North Aurora, Illinois, that may have been contaminated with the food-borne disease, E coli. Among the recalled beef products were brisket, short ribs, and ribeye steaks.
The heat of summer makes it imperative for us to be vigilant about food safety during these gatherings, especially when the preparation of food is coming from all quarters. As no one wants to miss out on a great feast by people getting sick, here are some tips to keep in mind while cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables, or lighting up the grill for those mouth-watering burgers and other meat products.
Thoroughly washing produce is definitely high on the food safety agenda. Think of how many hands touch fruits and vegetables before they reach our supermarkets and farmers' markets, and the myriad opportunities for contamination, including residue from pesticides. Among the list are the growers, the pickers, the packers, the mode of transportation, and of course, those who rummage through them to make their selection before purchasing.
Washing hands with soap and warm water before and after handling fresh produce is also a key point. A colleague of mine, Helen Kennedy, associate consultant with Technological Solutions Limited, gave this fun tip during a training session: “Sing the happy birthday song at least twice while washing your hands, and by the time you are done, your hands should be squeaky clean.”
To keep produce safe, follow these tips:
• Store perishable produce in the refrigerator.
• Wash produce before peeling and cutting to prevent contaminants being transferred from your knife to the fruit or vegetable.
• Hold the fruit or vegetable under cool running tap water, gently rubbing it as you rinse it.
• Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry the produce before using or serving.
Most people eat with their eyes at first, and that grill mark across burgers, corn on the cob, hot dogs and pizzas, can really get the digestive juices going. However, there are some safety tips to remember:
• Avoid thawing meat at room temperature, but preferably overnight in the refrigerator on a plate or in a pan to catch any juices.
• Don't take meat out of the refrigerator until you're ready to grill.
• Always have clean plates and utensils to place cooked food on to prevent cross-contamination with serving pieces on which the raw meat was placed.
Plan a safe potluck
Follow these tips at your picnic, potluck, barbecue, or garden party:
• Never serve food that's been out of the refrigerator, off the stove or grill, or out of the oven longer than two hours.
• Make side dishes that don't need refrigeration and avoid sides like salads containing ingredients that need refrigeration.
• Keep cold foods on ice. Set your serving bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice.
• Keep hot foods hot by serving in chafing dishes, ensuring that the chafing fuel is always lit.
• Keep food and beverages in separate coolers to avoid picnickers digging for a drink, opening and closing the cooler with food in it.
Dr Wendy-Gaye Thomas is group technical manager, Technological Solutions Limited, a Jamaican food technology company. Email her at email@example.com