Do as I do—Demonstration tips

People love cooking classes and food demonstrations.  So why not use this interest to teach more than recipes or cooking techniques? You can teach food safety by using good practices.

Think of the class or demo as the “teachable moment”–that’s the time that is just right for someone to learn something.  Think about your audience. Are you teaching a newly diagnosed diabetic, or a group of seniors, new cooks or maybe a pregnant women or parents of young children.  All of these are people that should be more aware of food safety because they (or their family members) are more susceptible to a foodborne illness.

If you have guest chefs doing demonstrations for you – encourage good practices.  Sometimes you don’t have control over what a “guest chef” does—a friend of mine cringed the whole time a “guest chef” cut vegetables without washing and taste tested from the pot. Be sure to review with them before you start the food handling practices you expect.

You know the saying “do as I say?”  Well why don’t you make it “do as I do,” too?  People mimic each other and will learn healthful techniques if they see you practicing what you preach.

Here are some basic ideas to keep in mind.

  • Wash your hands before you cook. Make it obvious.
  • Watch your clothing and jewelry. Avoid long sleeves, watches, rings, bracelets, and earrings.
  • Avoid bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food and explain why you aren’t touching it.
  • Use separate cutting boards for ready-to-eat and raw foods. Different colors are a plus.
  • Keep foods refrigerated or in coolers until you’re ready to use them.
  • Follow the “two-hour” rule. Don’t allow folks to eat food that has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables. Again, make it obvious.
  • Use a food thermometer. Demonstrate how to use it and encourage its use for all foods, not just meats.
  • Don’t lick the beaters.
  • Don’t put the tasting spoon in the food or stand over the food while tasting.
  • Don’t lick your fingers.
  • If you’re wearing gloves, use care to keep them clean. Change the gloves when you change tasks. Wash your hands before you put your gloves on.
  • Don’t use your phone while you’re wearing gloves.
  • Don’t play with your hair.
  • If you’re serving samples, kept them at the proper temperature and make sure the serving utensils are clean.
  • If you’re only partially cooking something due to time, do not allow people eat this food before it is thoroughly cooked.

I know you think some of these are simple and basic—but I think I’ve seen each of these done by a cooking teacher or food demonstrator.

If you’re passing out recipes—at a demo or any time—make sure they include food safety tips. Include appropriate cooking temperatures along with storage temps and how long you can keep the food.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

What don’t you eat?

I frequently teach food safety classes for food service managers. At the end of the first day of class—after sessions on foodborne illness pathogens and potentially hazardous foods— someone usually asks me if there are foods or places that I just don’t eat.  Local sanitarians are often guest speakers in this class—I like to ask them that same question. I think it gives the class members “food for thought” and makes the information we’ve taught more personal.

 

You may have seen the list that’s been published by several sources and frequently pops up on Facebook. It’s the six foods Bill Marler never eats (http://www.marlerblog.com/lawyer-oped/6-foods-bill-marler-never-eats/).  Marler is an attorney that frequently litigates foodborne illness cases. His six “NO GO” foods are:  unpasteurized milk, raw sprouts, undercooked meat, pre-washed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables, raw or undercooked eggs and raw oysters or shellfish.

 

My list is similar. Like him, I don’t do undercooked meats, unpasteurized milk, raw sprouts or raw oysters.  I also add to this list:  some raw fish, ceviche, unpasteurized cheeses, Hollandaise sauce, home canned foods and some foods at buffet lines.

 

I’m not as picky as Marler about the pre-washed fruits and vegetables.  While most of the time I do purchase unwashed and uncut items, I will occasionally buy pre-washed items to save time.  When I do, I watch the dates carefully and the refrigeration temps.

 

Also, I will occasionally eat an undercooked egg—but definitely opt for pasteurized eggs for recipes that require raw eggs, especially when serving to guests that may be immune compromised.

 

Why do I say “some raw fish”? Most fish that is used for sushi is frozen before use to kill potential parasites—so I don’t necessarily consider them risky.  There are other fish—like most of the tunas—that aren’t at risk for parasites and I have eaten them raw. But some “creative chefs” serve fish species that aren’t on the no parasite list. If I don’t know, I don’t eat. In general I usually opt for cooked or vegetable sushi. I consider the sushi chef more of a risk for cross-contamination than the fish itself. I watch to see how they handle the raw vs. cooked products, do they keep their ingredients cold and how often do they clean their tables.

 

I also won’t eat ceviche.  For some of the same reasons I don’t do “some raw fish”.  While many people consider the fish in ceviche “cooked” by the lime or lemon juice added to the raw fish—it isn’t heat treated.  The acids may reduce some of the bacteria—I just don’t know how much.  Some versions of ceviche are cooked, if I don’t know, I don’t eat. I frequently come across ceviche when traveling to locations that don’t have adequate refrigeration or where I have cross contamination concerns. It’s just something I avoid.

 

I also don’t eat home canned foods unless I know who made them and what recipe and process was used. If it’s an old recipe or not from USDA or National Center for Home Food Preservation I’m going not going to eat it. I also need to trust the person who did the canning….are they a rule and recipe follower? …if not…I’m not going to eat it.

 

I also questioned our own Chef Judy—what does she “not eat”.

While her is very similar to the others with oysters, undercooked ground meat, sprouts and raw dairy she interestingly adds chicken salad.

 

Having trained as a chef, she also adds a couple situations and locations that cause her concern. These include buffets, slow restaurants and places where prepared foods sit at room temperature.  All good thoughts.

 

When I ask this question of sanitarians their list always includes raw sprouts.  But also say that there are things they would eat themselves that they don’t feed their kids. These include undercooked eggs and undercooked meats.

 

Everyone’s list is a little different—based on their knowledge, experiences and education related to food safety.  No food can be completely risk free, but we can teach good food safety practices to help reduce these risks.  Everyone has to use their best judgement and make an educated decision for themselves (and their families) regarding what’s on their “don’t eat” list. What’s on yours? Send us a tweet @foodhealth or reply to the email that announced this post or click contact us below and let us know!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Resources:

CDC list of outbreaks

Foodsafety.gov list of recalls

Food Safety Education Materials

Sprouts or Microgreens?

I like to ask sanitarians and other food safety experts what foods they WON’T eat. One item that’s always on their list is raw sprouts.

Over the past 20 years, sprouted seeds have been associated with at least 55 foodborne illness outbreaks with more than 15,000 people getting sick. All of this came from eating something people thought was good for them!

The damp, warm environments that are traditionally used for sprouting can harbor and incubate pathogens.   You won’t find sprouts on children’s menus, in school cafeterias or in nursing homes or hospitals.

The bottom line…..if you or a family member is someone “at risk” (children, the elderly, pregnant women or the immune suppressed) it’s best to avoid raw sprouts entirely.

If you like sprouts here are some tips (you also might like to view an earlier post on this topic https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/sprouts-for-health/ ) :

  • Only purchase sprouts that are refrigerated
  • They should look fresh and green. Avoid sprouts that look slimy or are sitting in water.
  • Cooking sprouts thoroughly kills most harmful bacteria—works good with mung beans sprouts but not practical for smaller sprouts like alfalfa.
  • Homegrown sprouts aren’t necessarily safer because the harmful bacteria may be present on or in the seed itself. Sprouting seeds need warmth and moisture to grow, which are the same conditions that are ideal for pathogens.

A similar food,  that’s becoming popular are microgreens. They are “cousins” to sprouts but less risky.  Sprouts are consumed entirely– leaves, stem, roots and possibly seeds, while only the stems and leaves of microgreens are eaten (similar to fresh herbs). One big difference is that you don’t consume the seed portion of a microgreen—seeds tend to be one of the sources of contamination in sprouts.  Another difference is that microgreens are grown in dirt not just water like sprouts.

What exactly is a microgreen?  They are edible baby plants, a little more than a sprout but younger than a “baby green”. They can be grown either indoors or outdoors in one to two weeks. People use them as they would sprouts, to add color, flavor, crunch and nutrition to sandwiches and salads or as garnishes. Microgreens can be grown from just about any seed; popular varieties are radishes, celery, dill, broccoli, green peas, arugula and mustard greens. The flavors tend to be similar but more subtle than the mature version of the same plant.

When growing or harvesting microgreens you need to take care watch for mold growth. Once harvested, they should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten as soon as possible. Microgreens can be purchased in some grocery stores or farmers markets. They tend be expensive because they are labor intensive and their shelf life is only two to five days.

What about nutrition?  Microgreens are full of antioxidants. Researchers reported in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry that the microgreens contain considerably higher concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature plant counterparts. The amounts were highly varied based upon species.

If sprouts are just little “too risky” for you, you might want to try microgreens.  Of course, like all agricultural products, they are not completely risk-free.  People that are immune-suppressed, pregnant women, children and the elderly should still consider the risks of eating these small greens.

Here are three great ways to use microgreens:

  1. Top salads with microgreens for added color and flavor.
  2. Garnish grilled items and other entrees with them just as you would fresh herbs. No chopping needed!
  3. Use microgreens on veggie burgers, street tacos, grilled items, and sandwiches.  Think of them as a combination of herbs and garnishes!

To keep the microgreens lasting longer, keep them between damp paper towels in a resealable container. You want a little bit of air circulation but you also want them to stay moist and not dry out. Handle them carefully with tweezers or a spoon so you do not smash them with your fingers. The best ones to buy are the ones that look the freshest. Our favorites are beets and radish microgreens. You can find them in farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

 

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

References:

Assessment of Vitamins and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens J. Agric. Food Chem 2012 J. Agric. Food Chem., 2012.

What are Microgreens, Eli Snyder and Lina Lovejoy, Caldwell County Center, NC Cooperative Extension, February 13, 2018, https://caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu/2018/02/what-are-microgreens/

USDA paper on sprouts and food safety

 

 

 

 

Just a poached egg

I like to teach with stories.  I think people learn more and remember it if they relate a topic to a real-life experience. Sometimes telling one story can lead to others and people can personalize the topic. Hopefully this will help them remember and make use of this knowledge.

When teaching food safety we always get to the topic of raw or undercooked eggs.  Here’s the story I tell….

One day I went to visit my 98 year old great aunt who was living in a nursing home. She shared a frustration with me. She had asked the dietary staff if she could please have a poached egg. She wasn’t feeling well and remembered her mother cooking her poached eggs when she was sick. She was looking for a comfort food.

She was told that she could only have a poached egg if she signed (as she called it) a piece of paper saying that she knew she might get sick(er) if she ate this egg.  First off, she was legally blind and really couldn’t read this paper they gave her. Secondly, she wasn’t feeling well, just wanted a poached egg and didn’t really want to be bothered with a paper.  She was confused and didn’t understand.

She didn’t get the egg.  This makes me sad.

What’s the background here?

Rightfully, the nursing home staff was concerned about this elderly and sick person contracting salmonellosis from an undercooked egg. I applaud them for this concern.  At her age a case of salmonellosis could be very risky.

For the average healthy adult the risk of getting sick from a Salmonella contaminated egg is very low. It is estimated that as few as three in 10,000 eggs are contaminated. (http://foodsafetytalk.com/ #156)

Typically, people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment.  In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella ranks second of all foodborne illnesses in the United States. It’s important that remember that children, the elderly, pregnant women and those people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to a food borne illness such as this and need to be more concerned.

One way to reduce the risk from Salmonella bacteria is to thoroughly cook eggs until 145 degrees F.  At this temperature both the whites and yolks are firm. Yes, this means the yolks should not be runny. This rules out sunny-side-up, over-easy, soft boiled, runny scrambled and my aunt’s beloved poached egg. For dishes containing eggs like quiche and souffles, they should be cooked until an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is reached.

What could they have done? There is an alternative –but does cost a little more. The answer is pasteurized shell eggs. These eggs have been heat treated so that they can be served undercooked without a risk.

I’ve had many nursing home and assisted living employees in my classes and frequently they tell me that they do use pasteurized eggs and offer poached and other eggs with “runny yolks” to their residents.  I’m glad to hear this.

I should have dug a little deeper into the situation, asked a few more questions and been a better advocate for my aunt.

Hopefully, my telling this story gives my students a chance to think about their choices, their options and the risks they take.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

NOT Ready-to-eat

Except perhaps a quick glance at the recommended microwave cooking times, I’m betting that most people don’t look at the fine print on a bag of frozen vegetables. I’ve recently noticed that some packages now contain the food safety caution:

“Product is not ready to eat. For food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Refrigerate any leftovers.”

As a food safety instructor I’m really pleased to see these kinds of cautions on packages—now to get people to read and believe.

Most people think of frozen vegetables as relatively safe but, they are not intended to be consumed without cooking, because they may contain bacteria that are only killed when cooked properly and thoroughly. These bacterial pathogens are the biggest concern.  Several foodborne illnesses have been linked to frozen vegetables including  Listeria monocytogenes, Norovirus and Hepatitis A.

According to the Frozen Food Foundation  http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/about-frozen-foods/helpful-hints   freezing does not kill all bacteria; some can live at freezing temperatures. Even frozen foods that were partially cooked by the producer may not have been cooked at temperatures high enough or long enough to kill all the bacteria that might have been present. They emphasize that it is important to prepare ready-to-cook frozen foods according to their cooking instructions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers most frozen vegetables “ready-to-cook” NOT “ready-to-eat.”  As their name suggests, ready-to-cook foods must be cooked according to package instructions before eaten.  On the other hand,  ready-to-eat (RTE) foods are just that: foods that can be eaten right out of the refrigerator.

You might be asking yourself, why would someone eat frozen vegetables uncooked?  One thought that comes quickly to mind is when people pop veggies directly from their freezer into the blender for a smoothie. I also know several salad and salsa recipes that use frozen or partially thawed but not cooked vegetables as ingredients.

Remember that young children, the elderly and people that are immune compromised due to illness, transplants or HIV are more susceptible to a foodborne illness than others.  Pregnant women should be very cautious because a Listeria infection could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or septicemia or meningitis in the newborn.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

 

 

 

Washing Poultry

Research shows that 70% of consumers wash their chicken before they cook it. Where do you stand on this issue?

The practice of washing chicken may actually have come from someone I admire greatly, Julia Child.  In one of her episodes of The French Chef she advised viewers to run uncooked chicken under the faucet saying she just thought it was a safer thing to do. She reasoned that we wash produce, so we should probably wash poultry, too.  Julia said it, must be right.  Sorry, no.

We all know that there can be bacterial hazards in raw poultry. The most concerning are  Salmonella and Campylobacter. Meat and poultry account for 22% of all foodborne illnesses and 29% of all foodborne illness related deaths.

These bacteria CANNOT be removed from the poultry by washing.  But they can be splashed and spread around your kitchen when when placed under the kitchen faucet to rinse.  Bacteria-laden water could go onto counter tops, faucets, towels, sponges or ready-to-eat food sitting near-by.  This is a prime example of potential  cross contamination.

Best practices are to use the poultry directly from the package. Take care not to spread any juices from the chicken that may have collected in the package.  Wash your hands carefully before and after handling the raw chicken.  The only way to know poultry is safe is by using a food thermometer to insure it has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

There are a couple other things you can do to help make sure you’re keeping your chicken (and other foods in the refrigerator safe):  keep your refrigerator temperature below 40 degrees F and store the poultry in the lowest part of your refrigerator so it won’t have the opportunity to drip potentially hazardous juices onto ready-to-eat foods and/or produce that won’t be cooked.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

References:

RTI International. “Many U.S. consumers do not use a food thermometer when cooking poultry, despite hazardous risks” January 26, 2015  https://www.rti.org/news/many-us-consumers-do-not-use-food-thermometer-when-cooking-poultry-despite-hazardous-risks

Don’t wash your chicken campaign, Drexel University. http://drexel.edu/dontwashyourchicken/

Food 52 March 20, 2018 Should You Wash Your Chicken? https://food52.com/blog/21918-should-you-wash-your-chicken

Is it TWO or FOUR?

This is something that’s been bugging me.  I teach food safety, primarily to food service managers and folks that work in restaurants.  Occasionally I do work with consumer groups. If you teach these topics you know that there are a couple differences in what we teach the restaurant folks vs. what we teach consumers.  Why?

According to the FDA Food Code food service operations are allowed to keep TCS (or potentially hazardous)  food in the temperature danger zone (TDZ) of 41 degrees to 135 degrees F for up to FOUR hours.

But, when you teach it to consumers it’s the TWO HOUR RULE.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture: “Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.” https://www.fsis.usda.gov .

And if you really want to get “picky” their TDZ  is a bit different, too. They say 40 degrees to 140 degrees F.

Food doesn’t instantly go bad at either two hours or four hours. Again, according to the USDA  “leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.”

Why the difference?  I don’t really have an “official” scientific reason. According to the folks at the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline they are leaving an abundance of caution with the conservative consumer recommendations.

While teaching I try to explain to folks that the four hours allowed for restaurants/food service is making the assumption that these folks are following recommended FDA food safety practices. These include lots of  hand washing and gloves,  use of sanitizers, working to prevent cross-contamination and using timers and thermometers.

This conservative approach might be a great idea for consumers. A lot of things can happen (or not happen) in a home kitchen.  I’m hoping that they do wash their hands before cooking and do use some good food safety procedures.  Not many folks in home kitchens use sanitizers but let’s hope they use lots of hot soapy water. Does the dog or cat climb on that counter when they are alone in the house?  Did mom get called away and thinks it’s two hours, when really it was more?  Food in restaurants are delivered in refrigerated trucks and put away quickly, while sometimes food stays in the TDZ longer than planned between the grocery store and the home refrigerator. I also wonder how many home refrigerators have thermometers.

What I  think is really important…if it’s two or four…. follow good food safety practices all of the time.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Recalls in the news

I know people on Facebook are just trying to be helpful….but they also spread fear and concern.  Twice within the last week I’ve gotten a “FLASH NEWS ALERT” about a recall of shredded cheese due to Listeria. There were many “shares” on this post and also many people commenting that they were afraid and pitching the cheese in their refrigerator.

I try hard to keep up on food safety topics in the news and hadn’t heard anything about a new recall. So, I checked it out at the government’s food recall website FoodSafety.gov . This site provides food safety and food recall information from both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  At this website you can also sign up for alerts to be sent to your smart phone or email.

The FDA is responsible for about 80% of the food eaten in the United States. The Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA monitors meat, poultry and egg products produced in federally inspected establishments. The web site will direct you to which agency is specifically involved with the recall and alert.

If there is a multistate foodborne illness outbreak, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serves as the lead coordinator.  You can follow these outbreaks and the investigations on the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/

According to the FDA website, they only seek publicity about a recall when they believe the public needs to be alerted to a serious hazard.  There are three recall classifications. Class I has the highest risk when the public is at risk for a serious health problem or death including biological pathogens and food allergens. When you look at the list of recalls it’s interesting to note that many of them are related to undeclared allergens, mislabeling or foreign matter in the food. Not all are recalls are linked to foodborne illness pathogens.

It is wise to protect yourself—pay attention to food recalls and check your refrigerator, freezer and pantry for these products.

The foodsafety.gov site lists recent as well as archives older recalls.  There has been nothing since last year on cheese.   I guess it just takes that long for some of these posts to get around.

It’s always worth a double check before pressing that “share” button spreading fear to your family, friends, students and clients!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

More Sushi Safety

I had just posted the article on Sushi Safety when I saw a related scary report in the news about a California man with  a tapeworm that they suspect he got from eating  sushi. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sushi-lover-pulled-5-foot-tapeworm-from-intestines/

First you may ask, could this really happen?

Yes, it could. The tapeworm is a form of parasite that can enter the body in food and then continue to live and grow within the host. Yikes!  Parasites are microorganisms that cannot grow outside a host but can live in food, water or soil waiting for a host to come along. While it does not happen frequently, there are several parasites that have been associated with seafood.

Some parasites are native to certain regions in the ocean and specific types of seafood and fish.  There are also parasites that can be found in freshwater fish like pike, walleye and perch.

In research letter published just last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers  said there have been increased cases of a Japanese broad tapeworm (diphyllobothriosis)  in wild pink salmon.  They cautioned that this parasite has been found on the Pacific coast of North American  and may pose a potential danger to those who eat these fish raw. Sources are chum, masu, pink and sockeye salmon.

A tapeworm like the man from California had can live inside a human for many years.  Symptoms are abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and changes in appetite. The worm can actually absorb vitamin B12 from the person’s intestine and if it grows big enough it can block the bowel.  The good news is that it can be destroyed with medication.

Another seafood related parasite is Anisakis simplex (roundworms). These can be found in fish, squid, cuttlefish and octopus.  Symptoms that may occur after someone consumes this parasite include tingling in the throat, coughing up worms, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.  They can infect the stomach and intestine and must be removed by a medical professional.

How can you protect yourself from these parasites?  Purchasing from a safe and inspected source and proper cooking are the two best things you can do. Cooking seafood to 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds, fishcakes to 155 degrees F and stuffed fish to 165 degree F can really reduce the risk. Salting, “cooking with lime” as in ceviche, marinating and cold smoking does NOT necessarily destroy parasites.

Restaurants selling raw or undercooked seafood are required to purchase their seafood products from approved sources that follow the appropriate methods of parasite destruction. Remember that this does not destroy any other bacteria or viruses that may be on the fish and careful handling is still very important.

It is interesting to note that fish sold at grocery stores or fish markets are not required to have been previously frozen to destroy parasites. It is assumed that this fish will be properly cooked before it is eaten.  Consumers wanting to prepare raw or undercooked seafood at home should ask questions at the fish market to determine if the fish is a species that is known for parasites and if so, has it been frozen for parasite destruction.

Buying “sushi grade” fish and thinking you’re safe? Think again. There are no regulations that define “sushi grade” fish. Your best bet is to ask lots of questions.

Not following good food safety recommendations regarding parasites can be risky —especially for children, the elderly, the immune suppressed and pregnant women who often have weaker immune systems.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Sources:

Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America Kuchta, R., Oros, M., Ferguson, J., & Scholz, T. (2017). Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America. Emerging Infectious Diseases   https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/2/16-1026_article

Seafood Health Facts:  Making Smart Choices, National Sea Grant Program https://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood-safety/general-information-healthcare-professionals/seafood-safety-topics/parasites

Bad Bug Book, The United States Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/ucm297627.pdf

 

 

Leave the butter out

If you read this blog regularly, you know that we’re trying to reduce the amount of saturated fats that we eat at our house. This includes butter. https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/the-butter-dish-is-empty/

But, when teaching about food safety, I still get the question….should butter be kept in the refrigerator or is it safe on the counter?

Obviously there are some foods that are more prone to making us sick than others. Foods like meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, dairy products, baked potatoes, garlic and oil mixtures, cooked plant food, raw sprouts, tofu and added more recently to this list are leafy greens, cut melons, cut tomatoes and mixtures of cut tomatoes fit into the “risky” group. These items should be kept in the refrigerator.

Common sense (and research) shows that other foods may be “less risky”. These are things like sugar, crackers, uncooked pasta and rice, uncut vegetables and fruits, chips and some baked goods.

What about butter?  Since it’s a dairy food does it have to be kept in the fridge?

Although it is did come from milk and could be considered a dairy product, butter has a high fat content and low water activity. These are not the right conditions for bacteria to grow. So, it’s not risky (at least food safety wise) to leave at room temperature.

Saying that, there is another problem: rancidity.

If butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid.  What is rancidity? This is a type of spoilage caused by a chemical reaction in the fat. This gives your butter that “off” smell or flavor. Keeping butter cold slows this spoilage process down.

If you’re like me and use butter very infrequently you may want to keep the butter in the freezer, but even freezing doesn’t stop quality deterioration completely.  Butter will keep for six to nine months in the freezer, if it’s wrapped properly and held below zero degrees.

Also, in the freezer it’s out-of-site and out-of-mind.  If it’s not setting on the counter next to the toaster I’m less likely to use it!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Compare:

Spread Serving Calories Fat (g) Sat Fat (g)
Butter 1 Tbsp 100 12 7
Light margarine 1 Tbsp 50 5 .7
Almond butter 1 Tbsp 100 9 .7
Apple sauce 1 Tbsp 20 0 0
Peanut butter 1 Tbsp 94 8 1.5
  • Butter, 1 tablespoon, 100 calories, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat
  • Light margarine, 1 tablespoon, 50 calories, 5 grams of fat, .7 grams of saturated fat
  • Almond butter, 1 tablespoon, 100 calories, 9 grams of fat, .7 grams of saturated fat
  • Apple sauce, 1 tablespoon, 20 calories, 0 g fat
  • Peanut butter, 1 tablespoon, 94 calories, 18 g of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat