Vegetables are part of a healthy diet. However, they can also be a source of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Use these food safety tips to protect yourself and your family.
Always wash hands with soap and water before you start to prepare vegetables.
Use clean equipment, including cutting board and knives.
Wash all produce even if the skin will be peeled. If a produce item is labeled ready to eat, washing is not recommended and could increase risk of illness.
Wash produce under running water. A scrub brush can help in cleaning produce. Soap and vegetable rinses are not necessary. If soaking is required to loosen dirt, make sure to finish by rinsing under cool or warm running water.
August is “back to school” time. Does your child bring a lunch from home? When packing school lunches, it’s important to consider food safety. First, wash your insulated lunch box or bag with warm water and soap. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds prior to preparing foods. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. Preparing and freezing sandwiches the night before is a time saver. Don’t freeze sandwiches that contain tomato, cucumber, or lettuce. Pack your lunch bags right before leaving home.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags help keep food cold, but pack at least two ice sources with perishable food in any lunch bag you use. You can use a frozen juice box or bottle of water rather than a frozen gel pack. When packing your bag lunch, place the frozen ice source above and below the perishable food items to keep them cold.
Want more information? Check out Freezing Sandwiches, https://food. unl.edu/fnh/freezing-sandwiches.
It is important to cut and store watermelon and other fruit properly for quality and safety. First, begin by washing your hands. You should also wash the outside of watermelon or other fruit using a vegetable brush and cool water. Bacteria lingering on the outer surface of fruit, like watermelon, can transfer into the fruit when cutting.
Cut your melon this way:
Cut off the ends, to provide a fat base.
Place the knife where the white rind meets the red flesh. Following the curve of the fruit, cut off the rind.
Cut the whole watermelon into disks, with the width of the disks being the same width you want the diced cubes to be.
With the disks facing down, cut same size strips in both directions, “dicing” the melon.
The ISU Extension and Outreach website Spend Smart. Eat Smart. also has a video called How to Cut a Melon, blogs.extension.iastate.edu/spendsmart, showing how to cut and prepare melon. Store watermelon at 40°F or lower in the refrigerator. Bacteria can grow in cut melon that is held at higher temperatures.
Many Americans throw away perfectly good food due to label confusion. This contributes 398,000 tons of food waste each year. “Best by” labels indicate when the manufacturer believes the food should be used for best quality, NOT food safety. “Use by” and “sell by” dates are similar for shelf stable foods; these dates tend to reflect quality, not food safety. However, “use by” and “sell by” dates on refrigerated items do indicate when the food may begin to spoil. Don’t use refrigerated foods that are past the “use-by” or “sell-by” date. If a food product is nearing the indicated date, you may be able to freeze it to extend its life.
When cooking and serving meals outdoors, remember to make food safety part of your planning. Keep these two guidelines in mind:
Don’t Cross Contaminate
When marinating food for grilling, refrigerate during the marinade process.
Keep your raw fish, meat, and poultry away from any cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
Have a clean plate to carry food to and from the grill.
Wash and sanitize all surfaces and utensils after they have been in contact with raw fish, meat, or poultry.
Be sure to have an extra clean utensil to remove cooked food from the grill.
2. Use a Food Thermometer
Experienced cooks may think they know when food is done just by looking at it, but this may not be the case. Burgers can turn brown before they are fully cooked. Germs that cause foodborne illness are not killed until a safe internal temperature is reached. This is where a food thermometer comes in. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know your food is done and safe to eat.
Using a food thermometer ensures food is cooked to a safe temperature. You can’t rely on the color or texture of a food to determine if it’s safely cooked. For example, ground beef may turn brown before it reaches a temperature that kills germs. A hamburger cooked to 160°F is safe regardless of color. Use a food thermometer to make sure cold food is at or below 40°F and hot food is at or above 140°F.
One in six people get food poisoning—also known as a foodborne illness—every year in the United States. Young children, pregnant women, and older adults have a higher risk of foodborne illness.
Pregnant women are at high risk for listeriosis, a type of foodborne illness that causes miscarriage. Lower the risk by doing the following:
Cook meat, seafood, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
Do not eat cold deli meats or hot dogs. Heat sliced deli meats and hot dogs to 165°F or until steaming.
Avoid raw bean sprouts, unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
Adults ages 60 years and older are at higher risk for foodborne illness because the immune system weakens with age. Likewise, young children are at higher risk because their immune systems haven’t fully developed yet.
Keep everyone safe by following these food safety practices.
Clean: Wash your hands thoroughly. Clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces.
Separate: Keep raw meats apart from other foods that may be eaten without cooking, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cook: Cook foods to the correct temperature. Use this handout on food thermometers, bit.ly/2YXooHu, for more information.
Chill: Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than two hours.
To keep leftover soup safe, cool it quickly before putting it in the refrigerator. Place the soup pot in an “ice bath”—a sink filled with ice. Or stir ice cubes into the broth.
Never put a pot of soup directly into the refrigerator. Instead, pour the cooled soup into shallow containers, no more than two inches deep. Shallow containers ensure that foods will chill to 41˚F or below in less than four hours. This will prevent bacterial growth. Store soup in the refrigerator for no more than 3–4 days before eating it or throwing it out. Be sure to reheat cold soup to 165˚F or higher.
To learn how to freeze your homemade soup to make it go farther, visit AnswerLine blog, blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/10/24/ successfully-freezing-homemade-soup/.
Baked potatoes are a popular vegetable dish during the holiday season and throughout the year. However, they become unsafe if you don’t prepare them correctly. Dangerous bacteria may grow in foil-wrapped baked potatoes if left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
First, don’t foil wrap your potatoes too tightly. This removes all air from the potato. Without air, the bacteria that makes botulism toxin can grow. Even a tiny taste of a food with this toxin can cause paralysis and even death. To prevent illness, remove the foil from baked potatoes right after baking. Then put leftover, unwrapped baked potatoes in the refrigerator right away.