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You know, I’ve worked for over 30 years as a country educator in the the Cooperative Extension System. Sometimes I think that I’ve heard all the consumer questions that are out there. And you know the theme to most of them? Food safety.
When it comes to food safety calls, most folks want to know if something that they had in their refrigerator, cupboard, or even the trunk of their car is still safe to eat. Frequently, my recommendation is to throw it out. I think most of the time the people knew that their food was not safe, but they really wanted confirmation from another person. After all, if they had thought it was safe in the first place, then why did they call?
Then there are the people who thought their food was safe, though I told them that I wouldn’t recommend eating it. Those folks are a little harder to convince. Usually they call with a related question, then, in the subsequent discussion, I discover an unsafe practice. These folks usually argue with me that their food is safe.
Now I always wonder if those people really followed my recommendation to “toss it.”
I know one lady said, “Well I’m going to eat it anyway, so if you see my name in the obituary, you’ll know what happened.” I looked in the paper, and perhaps she was sick, but I don’t think she died from eating those 79 cents worth of food. But why take the risk?
One phrase I hear over and over again is “we’ve been doing it this way for years and we haven’t died yet.” I swear that one of these days I’m going to write a book with that title.
If you’re evaluating the safety of food in your refrigerator, of if a client or consumer asks for your advice, here are some key food safety concepts:
- Follow the two hour rule. Food should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours (and reduce that to 1 hour if it’s a very hot day).
- Follow reputable references when preserving food. (Just because it’s on the internet or television does not make it safe). The two best references are the National Center for Home Food Preservation and the USDA Guide to Home Canning. Both are available at http://nchfp.uga.edu.
- Use a food thermometer when cooking. Get a reference chart so that you know the correct temperature to look for. Don’t rely on color or texture alone.
- Use extra precautions if you are serving food to young children, older folks, or people with chronic diseases. These people are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
- Use a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. This tool is especially important during a power outage, since it will help you track the temperature inside these appliances.
- Watch the expiration dates on food.
- Take care with “doggie” bags and leftovers (see the TWO HOUR rule).
- Eat, freeze, or PITCH leftovers after 4 days.
Maybe they “haven’t died, yet” but these key points may guide people to safer practices. Then there won’t be a question of possible risk.
By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University
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