Safer-at-home orders, social distancing and quarantines have added a new level of difficulty to beating the summer heat and serving safe and yummy food at a family gathering. While cooking and socializing outdoors can minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19, there are still other summer food safety measures people should follow.
Terence Martin, the Urban Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program coordinator with Alabama Extension at Alabama A&M University, offers some food safety tips for outdoor festivities this summer.
Food transport and storage
The novel coronavirus is not known to grow on food. However, Martin said harmful bacteria will grow on meat between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Keep this in mind when picking up meat, poultry or seafood from a store,” Martin said. “It’s wise to bring a cooler and ice packs to keep food at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or colder during transit.”
Martin said it is important to prepare or refrigerate meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and other perishable items within two hours of purchasing.
“Never allow meat, poultry or seafood to sit at room temperature for longer than one hour if the air temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Remember to wash surfaces with hot, soapy water or a bleach solution if food leaks occur.”
Consumers are more aware than ever of the importance of washing their hands, but Martin said this is the most important step in food preparation.
“Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after you handle any type of food,” Martin said.
While many people freeze meat for use at a later date, there are many of those same individuals who have no idea how to properly thaw a package of meat.
The following are tips for safely preparing thawed food:
• Thaw food in a refrigerator or in cold water. Change water every 30 minutes;
• Cook food promptly when thawed;
• Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat separate from other food;
• After thawing, be sure to cook food at the temperatures indicated by foodsafety.gov;
Before cooking and serving out of the kitchen, Martin said it is important to clean and disinfect kitchen counters using reusable or disposable gloves.
“Clean surfaces with soap and water, then use a disinfectant,” he said. “Soap and water will reduce germs. Disinfectants will kill germs that grow on surfaces. Surfaces that are touched daily, such as kitchen countertops, should be cleaned frequently.”
Avoid using disinfectants manufactured for hard surfaces, such as bleach or ammonia, on cardboard or plastic food packaging. Wash dishes and eating utensils in hot soapy water, or place dishes in a dishwasher to effectively sanitize and kill germs.
“When serving, keep hot food hot and cold food cold,” Martin said.
Other safety tips for serving food include:
• Limiting access to food areas;
• Assigning food servers to limit the number of people handling utensils; and
• Purchasing individual condiment packets.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers safety tips for summer entertainment during COVID-19. Some of those tips include:
• Advising sick people to stay home;
• Hosting activities outside whenever possible;
• Maintaining social distancing by placing tables and chairs at least 6 feet or two arm-lengths apart;
• Wearing masks when proximity is less than 6 feet; and
• Engaging in activities like frisbee or dancing that requires little or no contact.
For more help or to ask questions, visit www.aces.edu or call 256-232-5510.
— Posted by Katie Nichols.