We've all been to a picnic on a beautiful sunny day and as we move down the line, we see that delicious looking bowl of potato salad. Is it safe to eat? Can you eat a big scoop without worry or will you regret if later that night?
Food safety is not a very sexy subject, but it is clearly a necessary one. I think we all have an expectation that when we buy food or eat anything, we are not going to get sick. Keeping food safe takes some effort and sometimes something slips through the cracks. Everyone at some point has an experience where you come down with a horrible gastrointestinal bug and you know you got it from something you ate. I had a caprese salad once that did me in for 2 days. I haven't been back to that restaurant!
We spent a whole day the first week of school taking a food safety class, including a test to get certified as a food manager. I thought it was really interesting, although most of the class thought is was a real snoozer. We learned that there are certain foods that are susceptable to growing pathogens that cause food borne illness. These foods, called TCS foods, need Time and Temperature Control for Safety. These include all animal products, including eggs and dairy; tofu; sprouts; cooked vegetables; beans and cooked starchy foods like rice and potatoes; and cut tomatos, cut melons, and torn or cut leafy greens.
Foods on the list must be stored out of the dange zone at 41 degrees or colder, or kept hot at 135 degrees or hotter. Any food kept in the danger zone (41 to 135 degress) for more than 4 hours must be discarded!
So can you eat that potato salad? It is not only a cooked starchy food, but also has eggs in the form of mayonnaise. Double whammy! I would say, if you are at a picnic, its warm outside, and the bowl is on the table? Eat it quick! Your risk goes up with time and after 4 hours, all bets are off! Keep in mind how warm it is, and how long it has been sitting there. Feel the bowl and see if it still feels cold. If you don't know how long its been there and it seems warm, skip it!
Other fun facts:
- All items on a salad bar are required to have their own serving utensil to prevent cross contamination. (I admit sometimes I steal a utensil from another container if I don't like the one that's there!) Items also must all be labeled if they are not easily identified. This is to prevent people from sticking their fingers into it to figure out what it is. (So my MD Anderson friends, have you ever seen a label at the Rotary House salad bar?! Ever wonder is that tuna or chicken salad?)
- Foods that are non-TCS foods that are unopened can be re-served from one group of guests to another. So crackers are great to share, but a bread basket is not!
- Non-TCS foods in containers with very small openings can also be shared among patrons. So that maple syrup container and mustard and ketchup are okay.
- Day cares, hospitals, and nursing homes have extra restrictions: they cannot serve sprouts (too risky), all eggs must be fully cooked or must be pasturized (no sunny side up!), unpasturized cheese like Brie cannot be served, and pasturized juice must be used. No freshly squeezed juice.
- If a restaurant wants to serve undercooked foods (like rare steak) they must post a warning on the menu.
Okay so that is enough for day 2 on a pretty dry subject! Cooking school is obviously not all fun!
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