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Proper cooking, storage key to summer food safety

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | July 20, 2021 1:03 AM

MOSES LAKE — The (mostly) post-pandemic summer is about getting together, maybe around the picnic table in the backyard. Good stuff on the grill, maybe a nice big green salad, melon salsa and a macaroni salad.

But there is something to keep in mind. There are still contaminants that can get into food or can remain in food if it’s not cooked properly.

Stephanie Shopbell of the Grant County Health District said cold food has to stay cold to avoid the possibility of contamination -- and that includes foods that usually aren’t associated with food-borne illness.

“If you’ve got foods that should be kept cold and you’re not able to control the temperature, you don’t want them to sit out for more than two hours,” Shopbell said. “And if it’s above 90 degrees, which lately that’s been nearly every day, you don’t want them to sit out for more than an hour to keep pathogens from growing.”

That’s when a nice, efficient cooler comes in handy.

“It’s better if you can keep things in a cooler with ice, keep it at 40 degrees or less, for things that need to stay cold,” Shopbell said.

There are some surprising things on the list of foods that need to be cold.

“Any kind of cut leafy greens,” Shopbell said. “So if you’ve got a green salad that you’re serving. Cut tomatoes, if you’ve cut up some for salsa, you want to keep that stuff cold.”

Pasta salad and macaroni salad, for example, can be susceptible to contamination, bacteria that can cause them to become unhealthy. And it’s not just mayonnaise, unless the mayo is homemade. It’s the pasta.

Cooked pasta should be cooled quickly, Shopbell said, so that it’s less than 40 degrees. That inhibits the growth of bacteria.

People should keep an eye on that melon salsa, too, or anything with cut melon. A fruit salad with, say, apples and grapes, bananas and oranges won’t be a problem, but adding cut melons changes the equation.

“If you add in cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, any of the melons, then that needs to be kept cold,” Shopbell said.

Just as some food needs to be cold, other foods, especially meat, need to be hot. Grilled meat that’s undercooked can host contaminants.

Shopbell recommended using a digital thermometer to ensure the meat is getting to the right temperature, and cooks need to know the right temperature for the burgers isn’t right for the shrimp.

“Things like fish have different pathogens than (something like) chicken,” Shopbell said.

The pathogen-killing temperature for hamburger is 158 degrees; fish, shellfish, steaks and ribs should be 145 degrees. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees.

The thermometer used should measure temperature on the meat surface, Shopbell said.

Of course, the food that’s going to be cut up needs a good bath first, and any utensils used to cut raw meat should be sanitized before they’re used to cut up anything else. Sanitation also is recommended for any countertops or cutting boards. And sanitizing requires more than just hot water.

“Bleach solution is the easiest and cheapest,” Shopbell said. “It’s a capful (of bleach) per gallon (of water). You can mix (the solution) up in a spray bottle and spray it.”

It’s good to let the solution sit for a minute or two before wiping it off, she said.

“You want it to stay on the surface for a little while and let it dry. You don’t want to wipe it down immediately so it has time to kill anything that might be on there,” Shopbell said.