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Food Safety Fact Sheets for Consumers

Potluck Food Safety

Potluck Food Safety

No matter the occasion, when friends and family get together, food is often served.  It's fun to share your favorite dishes, but it's important to make sure that your food doesn't make anyone sick.  The Ohio Department of Health recommends the following tips to make sure the foods at your next potluck are safe for all to enjoy.

Temperature Control

One of the most important points to ensuring your food is safe is keeping perishables out of the temperature "danger zone", which is a range of temperatures where bacteria grows fastest in food.  The danger zone for perishable foods is between 41° F and 135° F.

Preparing for the Potluck

  • Don't prepare food if you or someone in your home is sick.  Sharing food is good, but sharing illness is not.  If you or a family member is sick, think about waiting until the next potluck to make food.
  • When deciding what to bring, consider foods that don't require temperature control such as baked goods or pre-packaged snacks. If you do bring a hot or cold food, you'll need to find a way to keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold throughout the event.
  • Wash your hands before preparing any foods.  Use utensils as much as possible during food preparation to limit contact with hands.
  • Make foods that are easy to serve with utensils to limit the need for hands to come in direct contact with the prepared food.

Transporting Your Food

  • All foods should be transported in covered containers to prevent contamination.
  • Hot foods need to be kept above 135° F. An insulated container should be used to keep the foods hot during transportation.
  • Cold foods need to be kept below 41° F. A cooler with ice or gel packs should be used to keep the foods cold during transportation.

Sharing Your Food

  • Provide plenty of clean utensils so food can be served without touching it directly.
  • Use slow cookers, chafing dishes, or some other type of warmer to keep hot foods above 135° F throughout the event.
  • Keep cold foods on ice or some other type of chilled container while being served to keep them below 41° F.

Leftovers

  • Leftovers should be put away once the meal has completed.  Use a probe thermometer to check hot and cold food temperatures to determine whether they should be put in refrigeration for saving or discarded:
    • Hot foods that have been below 135° F for more than two hours should be thrown away.
    • Cold foods that have been above 41° F for more than two house should be thrown away.

Click here for a printable version of "Potluck Food Safety".

Food Safety & Power Outages

Food Safety & Power Outages:  When to Save and When to Throw Out

The following information provided by www.foodsafety.gov provides guidance on which foods can be kept and which foods should be discarded after a power outage at home.

Refrigerated Foods:

MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Raw of leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; Soy meat substitutes Discard
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza - with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard

 

CHEESES Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roqufort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufachtel, queso Discard
Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in a can or jar) Safe

 

DAIRY Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard

 

EGGS Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Custards and puddings, quiche Discard

 

FRUITS Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Fresh fruits, cut Discard
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe

 

VEGETABLES Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato salad Discard
Casseroles, soups, stews Discard

 

SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 50° F  > 8 hours
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard

 

BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookies dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods - waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe

 

PIES, PASTRY Above 40° F > 2 Hours
Pastries, cream filled Discard
Pies: custard, cheese-filled or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe

Frozen Foods

MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats Refreeze Discard
Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze - Some texture and flavor loss may occur. Discard

 

DAIRY Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Milk Refreeze - May lose some texture Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze - May lose some texture Discard
Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze
Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard

 

FRUITS Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze - Will change in texture and flavor. Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell or sliminess develops.
Juices Refreeze Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell or sliminess develops.

 

VEGETABLES Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze - May suffer texture and flavor loss. Discard after held above 40° for six hours.
Juices Refreeze Discard after held above 40° for six hours.

 

BREADS, PASTRIES Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings) Refreeze Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts, commercial or homemade bread dough Refreeze - Some quality loss may occur Refreeze - Quality loss is considerable

 

OTHER Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed. Held above 40° for over 2 hours
Casseroles - pasta, rice based Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze
Breakfast items - waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze
Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods) Refreeze Discard

Source: www.foodsafety.gov

Click here for a printable version of "Food Safety & Power Outages:  When to Save and When to Throw Out".

Nitrates and Food Safety

Nitrates and Food Safety Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What are Nitrates/Nitrites?

Nitrates and nitrites are chemicals that can be found naturally in our environment. Two of the earth’s most common elements, nitrogen and oxygen, combine to form these nitrogen-containing compounds. Nitrates are essential (needed) nutrients for plants to grow. Nitrates can be   found in the air, soils, surface waters and groundwater (underground drinking water).

How can I be exposed to Nitrates?

The main exposure route to nitrates is by eating vegetables and preserved meats. Vegetables account for more than 70% of the nitrates in a typical human diet. Cauliflower, collard greens, broccoli, spinach and root vegetables (potatoes, beets, turnips, etc) contain higher amounts of nitrates than other plant foods. About 6% of the exposure comes from meat and meat products, which sodium nitrate is used as a preservative and color-enhancing agent. Individuals may also be exposed to elevated nitrate levels through their water system. 

Who is at risk to Nitrate/Nitrite exposure?

Infants are more sensitive to nitrates because they take in more water for their body weight. Also, infants’ blood contains a form of hemoglobin, fetal hemoglobin, which is more easily changed into methemoglobin than is adults’ hemoglobin. In addition, infants’ digestive systems have a higher pH, which increase the changing of nitrates into nitrites.
 
Infants exposed to nitrates above the safe drinking water levels may experience breathing difficulties, have a decrease/drop in blood pressure (hypotension), less than average weight gain and may fail to meet developmental milestones. 
 
Pregnant women may be more sensitive to nitrates because their blood contains higher levels of methemoglobin. They may be especially sensitive at the 30th week or later of pregnancy. 
 
Those who have medical conditions or take prescriptions that may involve a nitrate concern should consult their doctor. 

Should pregnant women and infants consume water with nitrate levels above 10 ppm?

No. Pregnant women and infants should not consume water with nitrate levels above 10 ppm, and should only consume water from an approved alternate source.

Should pregnant women and infants use water with nitrate levels above 10 ppm to make ice, beverages, or baby formula, or use the water to make food such as pasta, rice, noodles, potatoes or soup?

No. Pregnant women and infants should not use water with nitrate levels above 10 ppm for cooking, making ice, beverages or baby formula. An approved alternate water source should be used.

Can water that exceeds 10ppm of nitrates be used to wash dishes, including baby bottles?

Yes. Only a very small amount of water clings to smooth surfaces, like dishes, so exposure to nitrates would not pose a health risk.

Can pregnant women and infants use water that exceeds 10ppm of nitrates to wash fruits and vegetables before they are eaten? 

No. Pregnant women and infants should not consume fruits and vegetables that have been washed with water with nitrate levels above 10 ppm. An approved alternate water source should be used for washing fruits and vegetables.

What should a food facility such as a restaurant or grocery store do if their water supply exceeds 10ppm of nitrates?

  • Unless the facility has a reverse osmosis, anion exchange or distillation system installed, a food facility should use an approved alternate water source for human consumption, preparation of food, beverages or ice; or 
  • Post signs advising that pregnant women and infants should not consume the water or food, beverages, or ice made with the water. 

Can exposure to Nitrates/Nitrites make me sick?

Yes, exposure to nitrates and nitrites can make you sick. However, getting sick from exposure to nitrates/nitrites will depend on many factors such as: 
  • The route of exposure (eating or drinking)
  • How much you were exposed to (dose). 
  • How long you were exposed (duration).
  • How often you were exposed (frequency).
  • General Health, Age, and Lifestyle: Young children, the elderly and people with chronic (on-going) health problems are more at risk to chemical exposure.

Are there any treatment methods available to remove nitrates in water?

Drinking water may be treated to remove nitrates through reverse osmosis, anion exchange or distillation. Note: Installation of a water treatment system may require registration with the Ohio EPA.

Does boiling water remove nitrates?

No, boiling water is not a solution for nitrates, as it can actually increase the nitrate level due to evaporation of the water. 

Will disinfecting the water with chlorine remove nitrates?

No, disinfection of the water will not remove nitrate because nitrates are chemicals, not germs that can be “killed”.
 
What levels of Nitrates/Nitrites are safe?
The U.S. EPA MCL (maximum contaminate level) 
requires the amount of nitrates in drinking water be less than 10 ppm (parts per million). Public drinking water supplies are tested according to Ohio EPA sampling requirements, and the water is filtered to remove impurities. Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) Chapter 3701-28 established a nitrate standard for private water systems in Ohio of 10 ppm. All new and altered wells are pre-screened and tested for the presence of nitrates. Contact your local health district to assist with nitrate testing.

How can I reduce my intake of Nitrates/Nitrites?

Keep in mind that healthy vegetables are the main source of nitrates, but vegetables are good for you and we would never suggest removing vegetables from your diet. However, you can reduce your intake of nitrates by:
  • Reducing the amount of preserved meats you eat (such as sausage, bacon, hot dogs, etc.). 
  • If your public water system has a nitrate advisory posted, use an alternate approved source of water for drinking, food preparation or cooking.
  • If you drink well water, make sure you are drinking water that is not contaminated with nitrates. 
  • Infant formula should be made with safe approved alternate water source when the nitrates are higher than 10 ppm.
  • Vitamin C will help prevent the nitrates changing to nitrites. Diets high in vitamin C will reduce the risk of methemoglobinemia.

References:

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity, September, 2015.
  • Toxics A to Z, University of California Press, 1991.
  • Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, 2nd edition, Noyes Publications, 1985.

Click here for a printable version of "Nitrates and Food Safety Answers to Frequently Asked Questions".