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The Wonders of Dried Fruit
by Wynston Estis, Assistant Store Manager
The first day of summer is June 21st. Hopefully we won’t have to wait until then to enjoy those warm, clear days that make it difficult to stay indoors at work all day. Summer days are supposed to make us lazy, but here in Wisconsin there is actually a lot going on in the summer, and food is a big part of many activities. Although I love many of the foods associated with this time of year, there are more frequent incidents of food-borne illnesses. Why is it that summer appears to have more food dangers lurking in dishes of melon, bowls potato salad and platters of hamburgers? Oh golly, there are loads of reasons, but here are some of the main ones and what you can do about them.
Most food illness is due to the presence of a bacteria, a virus or parasites in what we eat. Although it’s easy to identify problem foods—salads dressed with dairy products, undercooked meat or poultry—even an apple can cause illness if it isn’t washed well. All fresh foods and especially melons can have unwelcome microorganisms on their exteriors that can be spread to the inside of the fruit when we slice it open. Melons, particularly cantaloupe with its textured rind, are a salmonella risk. Melons grow on the ground where there may also be animal droppings, which present a big bacteria risk. The best way to enjoy melons is to keep them cool until ready to serve and then wash them thoroughly before slicing. Because these foods are eaten raw, it is best to be safe. Wash all melons with a produce brush under clean running water. And wash all fresh vegetables and fruit as well, even if the particular item you are nibbling in the garden didn’t grow on the ground. Rain can make manure splash up, and there are always birds that may have sent something down that is no longer visible to the naked eye.
So, as I mentioned, clean water for washing is vital to safe food preparation in all settings—professional, home and outdoors. If you are taking your food on the road, make sure to wash all your ingredients before packing them up in the cooler. And, here’s another little idea—think of the ice you pack your food in as food itself. When the ice melts, it will be a liquid that can easily spread unwanted presences either from the ice cube or the cooler itself. Always thoroughly clean your coolers before packing them up for the road. Wrapping ingredients in watertight containers will keep the chicken or tofu separate from the tomatoes or the raw meat separate from the cooked. Be sure to pack raw meat on the bottom of your cooler so the juices don’t drip into other foods you maight not be cooking. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car, in the shade outside, and closed as much as possible. The last tip on the cooler is that a fuller cooler maintains temperature better than a nearly empty one, so bring enough for everyone if it helps you to keep the food properly cooled.
Aside from microorganisms that maybe present on the food, our hands present another very likely source of pathogen transmission. Our hands go everywhere we do, so keeping them clean is difficult. Traveling with sanitizer is a good idea when you are going to a park or picnic area that may not have clean, running water to wash up after swimming, playing or putting raw foods on the grill. Pay attention to the little ones, too. I love the children I am fortunate enough to know and have cookouts with; they are very active playing in the garden, petting dogs and kitties, and being children. Their hands are often the favorite way of picking up something to eat. One kid’s hand in a shared dish could put something in the mix that mixes all too well. Even with super vigilance, kids are tough to keep track of on this one, so vinegar- or lemon-based dressings will help change the acidity to a level where these organisms are unlikely to survive. It has to be very acidic, though, in order to knock out bacteria. A hint of acidity won’t
In addition to keeping everything clean and cool, cooking to the correct internal temperature is a good way to destroy pathogens. The combustion temperature of wood is 500 degrees; charcoal burns at 1100 degrees and above, so a grill should be able to cook food to the minimal internal temperature recommended by food safety experts. To take the temperature of meat, you want to plunge the probe of a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the item avoiding contact with bones. Another tip I’ve heard is to always cook meat and poultry until the juices run clear.
Here’s a list of different meat items and the minimun internal temperature they should be cooked to before eaten:
• Poultry:165º for 15 seconds
• Stuffing and stuffed meat: 165º for 15 seconds
• Ground meat including beef, pork, etc.: 155º for 15
• Injected meats including ham and roast: 155º for 15 seconds
• Pork, beef, veal, lamb: 145º for 15 seconds
• Roast not injected: 145º for 4 minutes
• Fish: 145º for 15 seconds
• Stuffed fish: 165º for 15 seconds
• Ground, chopped fish: 155º for 15 seconds
• Cooked vegetables: 135º
Proper cleaning, cooking and cooling go a long way towards making summer foods some of the best of the year. Although none of the steps that are recommended are complicated, it does take some commitment to follow them. The payoff is also hard to enjoy, the fact that you’ll never know that by taking these few steps you’ve avoided a day or two of some unpleasant symptoms, or worse. I hope you have a fabulous summer and live in blissful ignorance of food-borne illness.