Test your food safety savvy

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Cheryle Jones Syracuse

Family and Consumer Science Staff N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center

Bacteria grow faster this time of the year. It loves the hot, humid days of summer. At the same time that temperatures rise, so do occasions for eating food away from home such as picnics, barbecues, cookouts and during travels. 

On top of that, washing facilities and ways for keeping foods hot or cold are not often found on the beach or at picnic sites.

Take a couple of minutes to test your knowledge of food safety as it relates to summer.

Answer these questions True or False.

1) Food can be left at room temperature for up to four hours without worrying about refrigeration.

2) You’re making a new recipe that calls for marinating the meat for several hours at room temperature. The recipe says it’s OK, so it must be.

3) The safest homemade ice cream is made by using cooked custard.

4) Salads made with mayonnaise or salad dressing are risky. 

5) You can tell by the color when a hamburger or other meats on the grill are done.

Here are the answers:

1) False. When summer temperatures soar, the time perishable food can be left without refrigeration gets very short. It’s usually recommended that perishable food can be left outside the refrigerator or freezer for up to two hours, but when the thermometer is above 90 degrees, the time drops to one hour. 

Food held longer at these temperatures is subject to rapid growth of bacteria and the production of toxins by some bacteria; this can lead to a food borne illness.

If you’re taking food to an outing or potluck, make only enough that will be eaten at that time. Throw away any perishable leftovers that have been kept out for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees).

2) False. Meat and poultry can be marinated for several hours or days to tenderize or add flavor. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Some people think that ingredients in the marinade will prevent bacteria growth. Acids may help here, but the two-hour rule is still in effect. 

If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat or poultry in it. If the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria. Not all television chefs or recipe developers follow good food safety practices.

3) True. Don’t’ let a favorite recipe for homemade ice cream made with raw eggs cramp your style with a possible food borne illness. The raw eggs can potentially cause salmonella. To cut or eliminate the risk, use a recipe that cooks the eggs by making stirred custard first. 

After cooking, this custard is quickly chilled and kept in the refrigerator until ready to put in the ice cream freezer. Another option is to use pasteurized eggs (found in the dairy section of your grocery store) in recipes that call for uncooked eggs. A good recipe for a frozen custard ice cream can be found on the American Egg Board’s website at www.aeb.org.

4) True, but not because of what you think. It is a misconception that mayonnaise commonly causes food borne illnesses. Most commercially made mayonnaise or dressings are high in acid and salt that can actually slow bacterial growth. 

The concern over mayonnaise is one that has been passed down from times when people made homemade mayonnaise with raw eggs and little acid. Use caution if you have a special recipe that uses homemade mayo; however, don’t use the commercial mayonnaise or salad dressing as an excuse not to keep these foods safe. 

All mayonnaise-based salads should still be kept on ice. These salads are usually full of potentially risky foods such as tuna, chicken, eggs and cut vegetables.

5) False. Never begin grilling without your most important tool...a food thermometer. 

Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Pork, lamb, veal, and whole cuts of beef should be cooked to 145 degrees as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, followed by a three-minute rest time before carving or consuming. 

Hamburgers and other ground beef should reach 160 degrees. All poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165 degrees. Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees. Fully cooked meats like hot dogs should be grilled to 165 degrees or until steaming hot.

Research shows only about 3 percent of us use a thermometer to check the temperature of foods, especially those cooked on the grill, but not using a thermometer is risky, especially when serving these burgers to people who are at a higher risk for food borne illnesses such as children, those with a lower immune system or the elderly.

 So, how’d you do? Did some answers surprise you? Don’t let food borne illnesses spoil your summer fun. Use a few simple practices and some common sense and you can have a food safe summer.