Do not (I repeat) do not rinse the turkey

chow_112015-508424345I see conflicting guidance about whether or not to rinse the turkey before roasting it. So, should I or shouldn’t I?

Despite what you might read in your favorite cookbook or go-to online recipe site, food safety authorities are steadfast in their warning not to rinse off raw turkey.

This has been the recommendation for years, in fact. Unfortunately, if you search the Internet, you may find many faulty recommendations that involve rinsing and pat drying the turkey before setting it in the roasting pan. This just doesn’t make sense, and causes more problems than it solves.

The reason is twofold: First, rinsing doesn’t work. It’s true that raw poultry sold in the U.S. is often contaminated with Campylobacter, Salmonella or some other bacteria. It’s also true that poultry is the fourth most common food associated with foodborne illness, and the most common culprit behind deaths from foodborne illness in the U.S. But research by the British Food Standards Agency between 2000 and 2003 showed that rinsing off whole poultry, or beef for that matter, does not actually remove all of the bacteria from the surface of the meat.

Second, and even more important, the act of rinsing off the turkey can actually splatter some bacteria from the surface of the meat all over your sink, onto your kitchen counter and over to anything that happens to be around it — the just-washed breakfast dishes in the drainer, for example, or the cutting board where you’re about to prepare a relish tray. Some estimates say the splatter can spread up to 3 feet away. The researchers examined what happens when people rinse off raw meat, and they concluded that the only effect is that it actually increases the likelihood of contaminating your hands and nearby surfaces. And it’s likely to strike places where you’ll be preparing foods that will not be cooked or roasted in an oven for a few hours where all that bacteria will be destroyed.

What’s more, most people don’t clean up properly. According to the research, people tend to wipe down a counter or sink with a damp cloth and figure they’ve taken care of any microbiological hazard. Sure, you may be more careful than that. After the turkey is in the oven you might wash everything down with hot, soapy water, rinse it off, let it dry and then follow up with a santizing cloth or bleach solution. But it’s Thanksgiving Day — do you really have time for that? Wouldn’t you agree that it’s much easier not to rinse off the turkey in the first place?

So, if your step-by-step guide to preparing Thanksgiving dinner includes the recommendation to rinse off the turkey, please skip that step, and you can feel quite smug about the decision. But be sure to wash your hands, and do so properly — with soap, for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under warm running water, and drying with a clean cloth or paper towel. Washing your hands properly and often is the best thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness.

For more food safety guidance for the holidays and all year round, see foodsafety.gov.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension state specialist in Food Safety.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

When it comes to food, play it safe

147010343Over the weekend, we did some holiday shopping and stopped at the grocery store. We were out for longer than I anticipated, and we left food in the car for about three hours before we got home. Is that food OK to eat? It was chilly, but I’m not sure how cold it was outside.  

It’s good that you’re asking. Too many people don’t take foodborne illness seriously. It’s hard to say why.

It could be because an illness doesn’t always occur when you don’t follow food safety guidelines. Let’s face it: If you became ill every single time after eating meat that’s not been cooked to the proper temperature, you would learn your lesson pretty quickly. If it rarely happens, you may never even associate your illness with those rare hamburgers you ate.

Another reason could be due to the fact that common symptoms of foodborne illness — nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea — mimic those of the flu or some other bug. There are more than 250 different types of foodborne illness out there. People may naively believe they have never experienced any of them, when, in fact, they have.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Foodborne illness is a serious problem. Fortunately, it’s often preventable by taking a few precautions.

Those precautions include time and temperature control: Don’t let perishable food remain in the “danger zone” of 40 degrees to 140 degrees F for longer than two hours. That’s the temperature at which any foodborne pathogens that may be in the food can multiply rapidly and grow enough to cause illness.

In your case, the food you bought and kept in your car might have been kept cold enough for those three hours. But it might not have. You’d be hard-pressed to find a food-safety expert who would advise you to take a chance and eat that food — or worse, serve it to your holiday guests. Sadly, “when in doubt, throw it out” would apply here. The smart thing to do is to discard the questionable food and head back to the grocery store.

Foodsafety.gov, a federal website with valuable food safety information, offers more holiday food shopping guidance at bit.ly/holifoodshop. Check it out, and stay safe for the holidays.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: Next week’s column will be the last for 2014. Look for a fresh look for Chow Line beginning Jan. 9.

This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Selecting, Storing, and Serving Ohio Squash and Pumpkin

144727297Squashes are members of the gourd family, which also includes watermelons, cucumbers, muskmelon, pumpkins, and gourds. Squash was a common food of Native  Americans. Archeological research indicates findings of rind and seed in cliff dwellings dated around 1500 BC. The blossom of the squash was the Hopi emblem of fertility. All through writings of the earliest explorers and colonists there are references to squash.

Pumpkin had its original habitat in South America. The names pumpkin and squash, especially in the United States, are applied inconsistently to certain varieties of both. Squash is available from July through September. October is the big pumpkin month, although a few are available in September and November.

Selection Soft Shelled (Summer Squash)

Selection Tips
• Skin should appear fresh, glossy, tender, and free from blemishes; both skin and seeds are eaten.
• Avoid over-developed summer squash—it has hard rind, dull appearance, and enlarged seeds and tends to be stringy.

Varieties to Look For
Crookneck and Straight Neck—delicate yellow, pebbly skin; gold color indicates it is over-ripe.
Zucchini—dark green, long, and straight, 8 to 10 inches in length.
Cocozelle—similar except smaller with green and yellow stripes.
White Bush Scallop—green flesh with white tinge; smooth skin,scalloped edges.
Spaghetti Squash—yellow to golden yellow skin, light yellow flesh, 8 to 10 inches long and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. After cooked in water about 30 minutes, flesh separates into spaghetti-like strands.

Hard Shelled (Winter) Squash and Pumpkin

Selection Tips
• Should be heavy for its size, indicating more edible flesh. Shell should have no cracks, bruises, or decay and should be firm.
• Seeds and rind are not eaten.
• Pumpkin should be fully ripe with firm rinds, bright orange color, and fairly heavy weight.

Varieties to Look For
Buttercup—turban shaped and fairly smooth shell; has nutty-type flavor, smooth textured flesh.
Butternut—gourd shaped with smooth, light beige skin; flesh is orange, fine textured, sweet.
Acorn—small, dark green with ridges; orange color on shell means loss of quality.
Hubbard—skin may be golden yellow, greenish-blue, or dark green; size ranges from 10 to 20 pounds.
• Decorating as well as good pie varieties of pumpkin are available.

For information on squash and pumpkin varieties available in Ohio, contact your county Extension educator, Agriculture or Horticulture.

Storage
• Summer Squash—Best when eaten soon after purchase. To store, refrigerate and use in 3 to 5 days.
• Winter Squash—Store whole in a cool (50 to 60 degrees F) dry area. Will keep several months if mature and stem is still attached.

Yield
Due to the many variables, such as moisture content, size, and variety, it is impossible to give specific recommendations as to quantity to buy. The recommendations below are approximations.
• 1 bushel squash = 40 pounds
• 1 bushel squash = 16–20 quarts canned
• 1 pound summer squash = 2–3 servings
• 1 pound winter squash (flesh) = 1 cup cooked

Nutrition
The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” recommend that adults need 2–2½ cups of a variety of vegetables daily. Squash and pumpkin are great choices to meet this requirement. They contain antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, some B vitamins, iron, calcium, and fiber. Pumpkin and winter squash varieties are especially good sources of vitamin A. Calories per cupserving: summer squash—15, winter squash—65, pumpkin—40.

Safe Handling
Clean surfaces, utensils, and hands after touching raw meat and poultry and before you use them on fresh produce. To remove dirt, bacteria, and possible pesticide residue, wash vegetables thoroughly in cold water. Do not use soap, dish detergent, or bleach when washing since these household products are not approved for human consumption. Dry completely before storage, especially if refrigerated, to discourage growth of bacteria and mold. We recommend that you only prepare the amount of fresh squash or pumpkin that you plan to use for a recipe or for a meal. Extra squash or pumpkin can be frozen.

Serving
Squash and pumpkin may be baked, boiled, steamed, broiled, pan-fried, or pressure cooked for immediate use.

Serve Summer Squash Creatively
• Slice or dice and cook in a small amount of water or fry in oil, season to taste.
• Dip in flour or egg and crumbs; fry in oil.
• Good combined with tomatoes.
• Season with basil, marjoram, oregano, or rosemary. Sprinkle with Parmesan or mozzarella cheese. Bake, mash, or fry—top with cheese or chive-parsley butter.

Serve Pumpkin and Winter Squash Creatively
• To bake, cut in half or pieces. Remove seeds and stringy parts. Place cut sides down in baking dish; add 1/4 inch water. Bake until tender.
• When nearly done, turn right side up and season with margarine, brown sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg, or try stuffing with sausage, apples, and cinnamon.
• To boil, cut up or cook whole in salted water; then scrape out of shell and use as a puree in pies, breads, and casseroles.
• Remove from rind and mash with cream, nutmeg, brown sugar, crumbled crisply fried bacon, candied ginger, and grated orange peel or orange juice.

Written by Barbara A. Brahm, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences.
Reviewed by Lydia Medeiros, Ph.D., R.D., Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

When good fruit goes bad

177423860When I hear about a recall involving fresh produce, how can I find out if the fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator are affected? If I buy organic produce, am I safe?

Information about recent recalls and food safety alerts are available on the front page of foodsafety.gov.

This listing contains information from both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 percent of the nation’s food supply including produce, seafood and dairy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of meat, poultry and processed egg products. For foods covered just by the FDA, see www.fda.gov/safety/recalls for recall information going back 60 days.

For recalled fresh produce check the FDA list. You can run a specific search by using the product name as a keyword. By clicking on the name of the product, you’ll see a description and the pictures of the product that was recalled and the retailers that sold the item.  Packaged products that have been recalled will have a date, and a production lot number to look for on the package. For bulk produce without a label, check with the store where you bought the product to find out if your items are part of the recall.

If you do have a product that’s been recalled, follow the FDA’s advice and don’t take any chances. Either throw it away or take it back to the store and ask for a refund.

To be on the safe side, the FDA recommends that you should also:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (count it out — it’s longer than you might think) with soap and warm water after handling the recalled items.
  • Wash any surface that the recalled items have touched, including refrigerator shelves or bins, countertops, bowls or plates, with soap and warm water.

Unfortunately, organic produce isn’t immune to food safety problems.  For example, one brand of organic mangos sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas was the subject of a recall in May due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. A more recent recall of peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) included both conventional and organic produce, because they were packed in the same facility where, again, Listeria was found.

Anyone can sign up to get automatic alerts about recalls by email or text. Just go tofoodsafety.gov/recalls/alerts to sign up.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Safety first at u-pick farms

492022639I’m taking my children to pick-your-own farms for the first time this summer. Any tips?

First — have fun! Of course, that’s the whole point, with the added benefit of getting the freshest produce possible.

But you also need to keep in mind some food safety considerations. Although consuming fruits and vegetables is associated with all sorts of health benefits, it’s also possible to be exposed to bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause foodborne illness.

The most important thing to remember is for you and your children to wash your hands, and do it often and properly. Here are some guidelines:

  • Wash hands before picking fruit, after going to the bathroom, after eating, and after any hand-to-face contact, such as after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • When washing your hands, first wet your hands, then lather up with soap and wash for 20 seconds. That’s a lot longer than you might think. A common piece of advice is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while rubbing your hands together, especially around your fingernails and knuckles. Scrub well.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and dry your hands and wrists with a fresh paper towel.

If there’s no water available, use hand wipes to remove any surface dirt, and follow up with a hand sanitizer.

Some other considerations include:

  • Don’t pick fruit that has fallen on the ground.
  • Use clean containers. Some operations provide containers; others ask that you bring your own.
  • Leave Fido at home. Dogs and other pets can’t be expected to be sanitary in the great outdoors.
  • Bring a cooler with ice or cold packs with you so you can start chilling the fruit quickly. After being picked, berries and other perishable foods shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours — one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees (like it can get in a hot car).
  • At home, rinse the fruit thoroughly under running water — use the spray for fragile produce, like berries — before storing in the refrigerator. Use a colander for smaller pieces.

For more information, Ohio State University Extension offers two fact sheets free online: Food Safety in Berry Patch, at go.osu.edu/fdsfberry, and Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, atgo.osu.edu/fdsffrtveg.

Other tips for visiting pick-your-own operations are available at pickyourown.org/pickingtips.htm.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Be sure produce is washed properly

459932801My wife always rinses packaged lettuce that’s marked as prewashed. She said it sometimes smells funny so she likes to rinse it off. If it smells funny, should we eat it? And is washing it necessary?

Prewashed lettuce in a sealed bag sometimes accumulates carbon dioxide, and you might notice a slight odor when you first open the bag. It should dissipate quickly and doesn’t indicate any health risk.

Be sure to read the label. Don’t assume that prepackaged produce is prewashed. If it is, you’re right — there’s no reason to wash it again. But if you can’t resist, just be sure you do so properly. It would be ironic if, in trying to be doubly safe by washing prewashed produce, you ended up contaminating it by doing so sloppily.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers guidelines for selecting and serving raw produce at http://bit.ly/rawproduce, and food safety experts with Colorado State University Extension offer additional tips at http://bit.ly/ColoStateFreshProduce. Here’s what experts say about washing raw fruits and vegetables:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw produce, and also clean counter tops, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water.
  • Generally, it’s best to wait to wash fresh produce until just before you plan to eat it, because the additional moisture may encourage the growth of bacteria and speed spoilage. If you see dirt on produce and want to wash it before storage, use clean paper towels to dry it thoroughly afterward.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating. Does the produce look rotten? Use common sense and throw it away.
  • Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. The running water helps to dislodge dirt and bacteria and wash it away. Experts do not recommend washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent, as produce is porous and could absorb the chemicals in them, or using commercial produce washes.
  • Even bananas should be rinsed off under cool running water just before eating, say experts from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
  • For other produce with a firm skin or rind, use a vegetable brush under running water before cutting into it, even if you plan on peeling it. This will reduce the chance that any dirt or microorganisms on the surface would be transferred to the portion you’ll be eating.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Enjoy seafood, but do so safely

187004239I read about a seafood processor that was shut down because of food safety concerns. We’re trying to eat more seafood these days. Should we be doing anything special to avoid foodborne illness?

Eating more seafood is a great choice for a healthful diet, but it’s good that you’re aware of potential food safety concerns. Outbreaks associated with seafood have been caused by a variety of bugs, including norovirus, salmonella, vibrio and others. And recently, two seafood processors, one in New York City and another in Seattle, were shut down because of concerns over Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens commonly associated with seafood are killed with proper cooking. But listeria is often associated with ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses, sprouts, raw milk and, yes, smoked seafood.

Listeria primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of listeria cases are fatal, making it the third leading cause of death from food poisoning.

To reduce your risk of seafood-related foodborne illness, the Food and Drug Administration offers a great primer, “Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely,” athttp://1.usa.gov/FDAfish. Tips include:

  • Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Fish should be opaque and separate easily with a fork; shrimp and lobster will become pearly and opaque.
  • Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy or sour. Spoiled seafood can have an ammonia odor that becomes stronger after cooking. If you smell such an odor from raw or cooked fish, throw it away.
  • Avoid frozen seafood with ice crystals or frost, which indicates it may be old or have been thawed and refrozen.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they are likely to have higher amounts of methylmercury, which can harm the development of a child’s nervous system. They should also limit fish consumption to 12 ounces a week and choose types known to be lower in mercury: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Canned albacore (white) tuna is somewhat higher in mercury and should be limited to 6 ounces a week.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Be safe: Always use meat thermometer

84304550I’m a new convert to using my meat thermometer regularly. But I’m not sure I’m doing it right. Where can I find guidelines?

First, congratulations for jumping on the meat thermometer bandwagon. Using one is really the only way to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly. And undercooked meat is a leading cause of foodborne illness — one that is easily preventable.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers an eight-page fact sheet aptly titled “Kitchen Thermometers” online at http://bit.ly/fsisthermy. It gives you details about the proper use of more than a half-dozen different types, including digital, dial, instant-read and oven-safe thermometers (the type you leave in the meat as it is cooking).

Different kinds of thermometers have different usage guidelines. For example, some must be inserted at least 2 inches; others provide an accurate reading with only a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch inserted into the food.

In general, here are some tips for using meat thermometers, from http://www.foodsafety.gov:

  • Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn’t touch bone, fat or gristle.
  • Know the proper temperature reading for the food you’re cooking. The Kitchen Thermometers fact sheet includes a chart. In general, steaks, roasts and chops (beef, pork, veal and lamb) must be cooked to at least 145 degrees F, with an additional three minutes of rest time before carving or consuming. Ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees F. Poultry (ground, whole or pieces), as well as casseroles, reheated leftovers and foods cooked in the microwave oven, must reach 165 degrees F.
  • After each use, clean the thermometer with hot, soapy water.

In addition, thermometers should be checked for accuracy every once in a while. Some types can be calibrated, allowing you to make adjustments to be sure they’re giving an accurate reading. But even thermometers that can’t be calibrated should be checked. If your thermometer is off by 2 degrees or more, it’s time to get a new thermometer.

An easy way to test the accuracy of your thermometer is to put the stem in a glass full of crushed ice and water, making sure it’s at least 2 inches deep and not touching the sides or bottom of the glass. After 30 seconds, the reading should be 32 degrees F.

Ohio State University Extension offers a two-minute video showing how to test a thermometer’s accuracy and calibrate it, if possible.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Wax off, wax on? Waxed produce OK

452415655Why is there a waxy substance on some of the fruits and vegetables I buy at the grocery store? Is it safe?

Some fruits and vegetables, especially those grown in warm climates, produce a natural waxy coating on the surface to prevent too much moisture from being lost.

When the crops are harvested and thoroughly cleaned before packaging and shipping, this natural wax is removed. If the wax isn’t present, produce that needs to travel a long distance may arrive damaged. So, produce handlers apply a thin coating of new wax to replace what was lost.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, applying the wax coating is helpful because it:

  • Helps the produce retain moisture and stay fresh.
  • Protects the produce from bruising and inhibits mold.
  • Prevents other physical damage or disease from harming the produce.
  • Enhances the product’s appearance.

While the wax can be made from several different materials, they all have to be approved by the FDA as safe to consume. Also, any fresh produce that is waxed must be labeled. The FDA recommends consumers look for labels that say, “Coated with food-grade vegetable-, petroleum-, beeswax-, or shellac-based wax or resin, to maintain freshness.”

Although “petroleum” and “shellac” are substances we don’t normally consume, the amount used is very small: A piece of waxed produce has only a drop or two of the microscopic coating. Still, for organic produce, the National Organic Program says wax can be applied only to non-edible portions of produce, except for organic citrus that can be waxed even though rinds could be used in juices and baking.

Wax is most often applied to apples, cucumbers, lemons, limes, oranges, other citrus fruit, bell peppers, eggplant and potatoes, although other types of produce also could be coated.

Since the coating is perfectly edible, there’s no need to worry about removing it before eating. Just rinse your produce, as usual, under running water. For cucumbers or other firm produce with a tougher rind, the FDA recommends using a vegetable scrub brush while rinsing under running water. You should do this even for produce that you intend to peel, especially cantaloupe. Doing so reduces the risk that any contaminants on the surface get onto the flesh as you cut through or otherwise handle the produce.

For more information on fresh produce, see the FDA web page at http://bit.ly/rawproduce.