If you bring food to fellowship meals, or just want to know how to keep food safe, please read this.
Let’s make the New Year a completely food-safe year! We have frequent fellowship dinners and other occasions where we bring food. Each one of us must study the Food Safety information below, understand all the principles, and pass this Tutorial with an A+! Then we must put the Food Safety information to use as we prepare foods to share at our social occasions.
Thanks for your attention to this important subject.
Lynette Quinty, Hospitality Ministry
Sylvia Fagal, MS, RD
Because food intended for human consumption can also be an excellent medium for bacterial growth, here’s how to know that the food we serve is certain to be safe.
Food poisoning can occur if a food is contaminated with bacteria and held at room temperature for longer than two hours. Here are the factors and how to control them to prevent food poisoning:
- Food that will support the rapid multiplication of bacteria.
Such foods are high in proteins and carbohydrates and are handled after they are cooked: potato or pasta salad, cold vege-meat or tofu salad, stuffed eggs, egg salad or vege-meat sandwiches, cream-filled pastries or donuts, custard puddings/pies/fillings, etc. (Often mayonnaise is blamed for food poisoning. But mayonnaise is no worse than any other food mentioned here; often it is simply an ingredient in foods that are handled and then not cooked.)
Contamination of the food by bacteria.
There will always be some contamination simply because we don't live in a germ-free environment. Our task is to keep contamination very minimal. Contamination is greatly in- creased by: infected hands (hangnails, etc.), hands poorly washed after using the restroom, hands and nails contaminated by touching pimples, droplets from an infected throat spattered when talking or coughing, tasting from stirring spoons, using cutting boards and tools not disin- fected (especially after raw meat, fish, or poultry).
People with sore throats, active colds, infected hands, or acne ideally should not handle food for other people. If they cannot avoid food handling, they must take extra-careful precautions to keep from infecting it with bacteria.
We ask people who have active colds or are sick in any way NOT to prepare food for church functions.
Room temperature. Keep foods out of the Danger Range: 40–140°F.
Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature on nutritious food. Refrigeration delays bacterial growth, but only after the entire mass of food has been thoroughly chilled. Any high-nutrient food that is not immediately cooked/baked or eaten must be refrigerated all the way through quickly. Spread such food not more than 2 inches deep in a pan. Leave it uncovered in the refrigerator until it is thoroughly chilled, then cover.
Sufficient time for bacterial growth.
If the other growth conditions are right, bacteria can multiply sufficiently within 2-3 hours to cause poisoning.
Typical symptoms for common Salmonella, Strep or Staph poisoning are nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Recovery is usually complete within 1-3 days. However, the very young or elderly can be more seriously affected.
The bacteria-friendly foods described above (protein and starch) can be prepared safely for potlucks or picnics. For a safe cold salad: boil potatoes/pasta/eggs, then chill them before peeling or handling them. Be very conscious of cleanliness while peeling and mixing. Do not talk over the ingredients while working with them, for saliva droplets fall into the food (wear a mask if you must talk!). Be sure uncooked ingredients like celery are very clean. Quickly chill the mixed salad as described in #3 above (max 2 inches deep, open....). Keep it cool during transportation. In hot weather set the salad dish in a larger dish full of ice while it is being served. Never allow it to be at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Don’t bring leftovers home if they have not been constantly chilled. “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Botulism (Clostridium botulinum)
Since some people may bring home-canned foods to church meals, the following information is crucial for avoiding deadly botulism poisoning.
- Botulism spores are common in soil and water and are not harmful. But when they are sealed in an air-tight jar or can and are not killed by proper canning (pressurized heat well above 212°F), they can produce a deadly toxin. This toxin can also form when fresh herbs are submerged in oil to make a favored bread-dipping oil. Foods poisoned with botulism usually look no different from safe foods. One taste of bo-tox infected food could give a fatal dose that paralyzes life-supporting muscles.
First symptoms: double vision, difficulty swallowing. Do NOT think, ‘I’ll just lie down until this passes.’ Have someone RUSH you to the hospital. Paralysis of the respiratory muscles quickly comes next. This is why botulism poisoning is so deadly!
- In practical terms, when food is being preserved, the following precautions must be taken—
a. Vegetables, meats and vegetable-meats (non-acid foods) must be pressure canned according to pressure and time tables published by reliable sources such as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Kerr or Ball Canning companies. (Any acid foods—fruits and classic tomatoes—can be safely canned in a boiling water process. Botulism toxin will not form in an acid food.)
b. Just adding some lemon juice or vinegar to a vegetable is not enough to make it an acid food. However, if the vegetable is truly pickled, it does not have to be pressure canned.
c. If non-acid foods were canned improperly, they can be made safe. Before using, vegetables should be boiled for ten minutes; meats and vege-meats should be boiled for 20 minutes before tasting or serving. If the food had botulism toxin, sufficient boiling will destroy the toxin and make the food safe. Even so, do not can vegetables and meats in a boiling water bath (non-pressure). One thoughtless taste could be fatal.
(Deadly scenario: home boiling-water-bath-canned green beans opened and put into a cold salad.)
d. If you do not have reliable pressure canning equipment, use only commercially canned vegetables and meats.
e. Freezing of vegetables and meats is safe, since the foods are not air-tight.
f. Never give honey to infants under 1 year of age. It may contain botulinum spores, and there is a possibility that these will form deadly toxins in the infant’s GI tract.