Whether you are a college student heading to begin a new adventure or the parents left to adjust to an empty nest, food safety can never be ignored.
For students, college life includes living in a dorm, preparing their own food and eating meals on-the-go. Whether packing a lunch to eat between class, road tripping with perishables or gearing up for a tailgate, you are sure to have to transport perishable foods at some point during your college years. Make sure your food isn't traveling with a case of food poisoning.
Students usually are lucky if they can grab a quick meal between classes, and food safety may not always be on the radar. Here are a few tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Association for preparing food-on-the-go:
--If you are bringing your lunch to eat between classes, use an insulated lunch box or bag to keep perishable food cold.
--If there is a refrigerator in your dorm room or apartment, ensure it maintains a temperature below 40 degrees fahrenheit by keeping a refrigerator thermometer inside. Clean up any spills immediately and minimize the amount of time the refrigerator door is open.
--When tailgating, pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice.
Here are some other common food safety mistakes that college students and parents make:
--Never taste your food to check if it has spoiled. You can't taste, see or even smell all bacteria that causes food poisoning, and tasting just a tiny bit of contaminated food can cause serious illness. Throw away all expired food before harmful bacteria grows. Consider composting expired plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, bread and vegetarian leftovers.
-- Never let raw meat, poultry or seafood touch cooked meat or any ready-to-eat foods, as this can cause cross-contamination. Foodborne pathogens from raw meat can easily spread to ready-to-eat foods and cause food poisoning. Always use separate plates, cutting boards and utensils to keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
-- Never thaw food on the counter. Harmful foodborne pathogens multiply rapidly when foods are in the danger zone between 41 degrees and 135 degrees. Instead, always thaw foods in the refrigerator, cold water or in the microwave.
-- Never wash raw meat or poultry because the water can easily spread bacteria to your sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces. Only wash raw fruits and vegetables.
-- Never eat any food containing raw eggs, because they may contain Salmonella or other harmful bacteria. Even raw dough without eggs should not be consumed as raw flour may contain E. coli and cause people to get sick.
--Never marinate meat, poultry or seafood on the counter or use the same marinade for raw meat and cooked food. If you marinate on the counter, harmful germs can multiple rapidly when in the danger zone -- between 41 degrees and 135 degrees. In addition, if you use the same marinade on raw and cooked meats, the harmful bacteria from the raw food can spread to the cooked food. Always marinate raw meat, seafood and poultry in the refrigerator and only reuse marinade if you bring it to a boil just before using.
--Ironically, sponges and dishrags are some of the dirtiest tools in your kitchen. Sponges and dishrags can hold harmful foodborne pathogens and cause a serious health risk. Always sanitize your sponges at least every other day and replace them every week or two for best protection against germs. Better yet, use paper towels.
Here's a recipe to celebrate the last of summer -- Chicken with Grilled Watermelon Salsa -- from Hy-vee.com. It's low in fat and cholesterol but high in protein, and a quick, easy after-school meal.
Chicken with Grilled Watermelon Salsa
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 mango, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 kiwi, peeled and chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
4 (5-6 ounce) chicken breast halves
Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 medium seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch-thick slices, rind removed
2 tablespoons fresh basil, for serving
Prepare charcoal or gas grill with greased grill rack for direct grilling over medium heat. Combine lemon juice and oil in a large bowl. Add blueberries, mango, kiwi and jalapeno. Set aside. Lightly coat chicken breasts with cooking spray and sprinkle with poultry seasoning. Grill chicken (about 12 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 165 degrees), turning once. Lightly coat watermelon slices with cooking spray. Grill watermelon just until grill marks form, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken and watermelon to a cutting board; cover chicken loosely with foil and let stand 5 minutes. Let watermelon stand until cool enough to handle and cut into cubes. Add watermelon to fruit in bowl and toss to combine. Serve chicken topped with grilled fruit salsa. Sprinkle with basil. Serves 4.
Per serving: 203 calories, 33 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 11 g sugar, 5 g fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 65 mg sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.