Four Tips for Safe Storage

Four Tips for Safe Storage

Following springtime planting and summertime nurturing comes harvest time. Kitchens, donning the bright colors of freshly plucked produce, are abuzz with preparations. Whether drying pears, freezing berries or pickling peppers, every recipe's first ingredient should be safety. Store your harvest with confidence by employing four guidelines to keep your healthy foods, well, healthy.

There are many ways to preserve foods — drying, canning, freezing, and vacuum sealing are popular. Each storage method involves changing the environment so it becomes inhospitable to harmful microbes or "germs" like bacteria, viruses and parasites. The biggest challenge in preserving foods is eliminating this risk. Just one bacterium can create four million more in only eight hours.

Splish-Splash give your hands a bath

" Practicing good personal hygiene is the best way to reduce the spread of food-borne germs. Clean hands are imperative. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends washing hands and wrists with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. Clean between fingers, under fingernails, and remove jewelry before cooking. Re-wash them after coughing or sneezing and before handling food, utensils and kitchen surfaces. Cover potential sources of infection like cuts and scrapes with bandages or just wear rubber or latex gloves.

Preparing food for storage

" From deep red cherries to cool green cucumbers, fruits and vegetables should be pristine. "The fruit should be ripe, but not overripe. Trim out any bruised or bad spots," says Lori Mefford, whose family owns Central Point's Seven Oaks Farm. "If it's just blemished, then it's fine. Don't use overripe fruit." Also, avoid fruit on the ground. It's more likely to have germs.

Mefford recommends washing produce with water and avoiding detergents. Once clean, she advises peeling produce to remove dirt, chemicals and germs.

Sanitized for your protection

" A soap and hot water wash followed by an application of mild bleach solution (one teaspoon of chlorine bleach for one quart of water) removes most germs. Before cooking, all utensils and work areas should be squeaky clean. To sanitize hard, non-porous surfaces like cutting boards, the Oregon State University Jackson County Extension Service recommends washing them in hot, soapy water; then rinse, let dry and spray with a diluted bleach solution. After two minutes, rinse with cold water and let them air dry.

Sanitize serving dishes, plates, cutlery and other utensils by washing them in hot, sudsy water. Then soak them in the diluted bleach solution for five to 10 minutes before draining and air-drying.

Simple storage

" Many fruits and veggies do not require processing, just the proper storage environment. Onions and garlic, for example, will spoil in the refrigerator. Instead, keep them whole and unpeeled, and spread in a cool, dark, dry area away from other foods. OSU Extension Service food safety publications report 35 degrees is the ideal temperature. Store onions in a clean pair of old pantyhose with knots between them and simply snip one when needed.

Carrots and potatoes, on the other hand, prefer a cool, moist environment. (Not as cool as a refrigerator, which the USDA states should be at or below 40 degrees F). Cover them in sand or sawdust. They'll keep buried outdoors. Carrots will keep in the ground; mulch tops with 12 inches of straw.

Each storage method has its own pluses and minuses, but they all require a clean environment. With that accomplished, you can safely savor the bounty Southern Oregon offers year round.

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