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When it comes to food safety, keep an eye on that potato salad



Raise your hand if you have gone to a picnic. Did you eat deviled eggs and potato salad after it had been out all day with the heat and flies? I have. I also drank out of a garden hose! It’s amazing we all survived those dangerous days of picnics on the grass. Back yard barbecues are different now. With the rise of over use of hand sanitizers, allergies and compromised immune systems, we may all find ourselves at risk. Here are few myths busters to keep you safe this summer and all year.

Should you wash your fruits and vegetables? The simple answer is, yes. There are three types of contaminates that could be on food that include chemicals (pesticides); physical contaminates (dirt) and bacteria (germs). Always rinse your fruits and vegetables even if it says “prewashed” or if they are organic. The food may be pesticide free, but may have dirt and bacteria say Peter Cassell, spokesman for the FDA. Fruits and veggies have nooks and crannies that you cannot take a scrub brush to. Try it on a strawberry or a raspberry. It just doesn’t work. Washing also protects you even if you don’t eat the skin, because when you cut or peel into it, you may transfer the germs to the part you eat. Simple water will suffice. Remember to wash only items you plan to eat right away. When you wash and store, some items will begin bacteria growth since you have washed any preservatives off.

Is microwaving your food in plastic okay? Yes and no, it depends on the plastic source. Other plastics breakdown or melt and get in your food. Look for “microwave safe” cookware, containers and more when you invest in leftover containers. If the container doesn’t have wording, look for a “wavy line” symbol, states Cassel. All containers used for food should indicate that it is safe for food. If you use plastic wrap to cover the food, make sure it isn’t touching the food and poke holes for ventilation.

What’s in the back of your freezer buried from 1998? Is it still good to eat? Although it may not be a safety issue, it may taste bad. The longer food has been in the freezer the quality of taste goes down. Blueberries store for about 8 to 12 months, but a whole ham will be tasty for only 1 to 2 months. Depending on your palate, you may not mind, but if you are using last year’s ham that was on sale after Easter this year. Mark your food with “eat by date.” If you forget, the USDA has a free app: USDA Food Keeper. Save money!

My mother cuts off the mold when she discovers a piece of cheese in the back of the drawer. According to Cassell, throw it away! It’s the smartest and safest thing to do especially for soft cheese like cream cheese, Brie and ricotta. Mold is a spore and more likely will spread throughout the cheese although you may not see it yet. Cheddar, Parmesan and provolone are some exceptions, as they are hard cheeses. Just cut off at least 1 inch from the edge and make sure you have checked all 4 sides of the brick of cheese.

Chicken. There are all types of information out there and there has been some bad history too. Some wash the bird prior to cooking as good practice when in fact it may be not such a great idea according to the FDA. The splash zone of raw chicken juice all over your sinks, counter, utensils and more can create a huge cross-contamination area. Just how do you clean up a mess you can’t see? Additionally, not all bacteria are easily washed away. The best practice says Cassell is to cook the meat to 145F degrees for beef, pork, lamb and veal; 160F for ground meats; and 165F for all poultry.

There are FDA codes and safety ideas that protect you from contaminated foods, but be aware that keeping foods stored at correct temps and cooking at correct temps are your best bet for a healthy summer picnic.