No matter what kind of get-together you’re planning, remember that food-borne bacteria thrive in warm weather. Make sure you prepare, cook and store food correctly to keep everyone healthy and safe. The best way to protect yourself and your guests, says former caterer Jeff Nelken, a food safety consultant based in California, is to follow these simple rules and tips:
1. Wash your hands. This cannot be stressed enough. Wash with warm water and soap before and after handling food and, of course, after using the bathroom.
2. Keep raw foods and their juices away from cooked foods. Never put cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw food. Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables, and wash the boards thoroughly after each use. This goes for the tongs you use with your food also
3. Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
4. Think small bowls, not big ones. Serve large portions of foods in smaller bowls and keep ones not in use in the refrigerator until needed. Then replace it—don’t refill it!—with a chilled one.
5. Ice down food transported by car. Cars can get up to 120 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes on hot days. According to the USDA, cold foods such as those containing mayonnaise should be kept at 40 degrees F with ice or frozen gel packs until serving tie. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees F or above.
6. Use multiple coolers. Use one cooler for raw meat, poultry and seafood and one for prepared food or raw produce. Reserve one cooler just for beverages and snacks because it will be opened frequently
7. Two hours in the sun, maximum! If it’s 90 degrees F or hotter, cut that to one hour.
8. Use pasteurized eggs. This reduces the risk of salmonella if your crowd includes a lot of people over 65 or those with compromised immune systems.
9. Cool cooked foods quickly. Hot foods needs to be kept hot. Bacteria doubles every 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re cooking ahead of time, refrigerate then reheat your food when guests arrive. Once hot food is served, it needs to be kept hot at 135 degrees F or above.
Enjoy your summer foods and stay safe. More information is available at AARP.com or through the USDA.
Your parish nurse, Mary Ann Martin, RN, FCN