Insider’s Viewpoint: Summertime Vegetables and Fruit: Keep them Safe

Now that we have officially kicked off the summer cookout season, let’s talk about ways to not only incorporate more color into your picnics, but also steps you can take to ensure you’re keeping those around you safe from foodborne illness.

Appetizers often set the tone of the meal, so be sure to incorporate as much color as possible. Whether you’re offering a platter of crudités such as cucumber spears and carrot sticks or sliced strawberries and grapes with yogurt dip, incorporating color is key for obtaining vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Food Safety Rule #1: Honor the Clock
Once fruits and vegetables are cut, their expiration date quickly speeds up. When the weather is under 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the window of time they can be left to sit out of refrigeration is 2 hours. For days warmer than 90 degrees, they only have 1 hour.

Tip: Only put out the amount of food you need and replenish trays as needed. Additionally, consider placing plates and bowls on ice or immersed in a cold water bath in which the ice is maintained.

Main Dishes
Continue adding color to your summer festivities by offering sides like bean salads that incorporate different color beans or lentils with a mixture of chopped vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and celery. Cooking up options such as grilled Portobello mushroom burgers or kabobs made with tomatoes, white button mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and zucchini as main courses will surely delight guest’s taste buds.

Food Safety Rule #2: Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold
The food safety danger zone falls between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the magic zone in which bacteria love to multiply. For this reason, it’s imperative to maintain the temperature of the food when serving.

Tip: As mentioned above, keep cold foods on ice. For hot foods, hold them in slow cookers placed on the warm setting or in chaffing dishes sitting in hot water baths above a constant flame created by chaffing fuel.

Step outside the usual fruit salad or strawberry shortcake and opt to grill peaches and nectarines or an aluminum foil pouch of faux bananas foster.

Food Safety Rule #3: Wash Your Hands
The number one cause of a foodborne illness is not the food in question. Individuals handling food tend to transfer bacteria like E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria from their hands onto the food we eat.

Tip: Wash your hands properly after using the lavatory, in between touching surfaces and food, as well as working between raw meats and uncooked items like salad greens and bread.

Proper hand washing includes running water, soap (anti-bacterial is not necessary) and friction. Rub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds (or the amount of time to sing Happy Birthday twice), rinse and wipe with a clean towel (or fresh paper towel).

Carrie Taylor, RDN, LDN
Lead Registered Dietitian for the Living Well Eating Smart Program
Big Y Foods
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