Thursday, May 3, 2012

My BFF’s: Water & a Thermometer

Odd title I know but I think you will get the gist of what I’m talking about… food safety! I have to say, I have never walked into a grocery store, farm stand or farmer’s market and felt concerned about whether or not the food I’m looking to buy is safe. The one thing that does cross my mind is whether or not the person(s) before me had washed their hands before choosing produce. That’s why water is my best friend in the kitchen. All raw produce that hits my kitchen counter gets well washed. Is it because am I concerned about pesticide residue? Emphatically – NO! I am concerned about the person who used the bathroom without washing their hands before grocery shopping, going to the farm stand or visiting the farmer’s market. Uugghh! Yucky topic I know but reality check here… how many of you have left the bathroom without washing your hands?

Stay with me here, I’m not trying to discourage you from buying fresh produce. I’m trying to illustrate one of the many ways that bacteria can be present on your food and why it is so important to wash all raw produce before eating it. That includes melons which can have bacteria on the rind and which you spread inside to the fruit by cutting the melon without having washed it first. Bacteria can be present from not only people who don’t wash their hands, but from the soil where it was grown, or if it wasn’t kept and stored at a temperature below what bacteria can grow at. Wash, wash, wash is my motto. Here is a video clip from the USDA about safe handling of produce. His opening line hits the nail on the head... Wash Your Hands!!

So a little about pesticides and food safety,

I’m a producer grower. We grow tomatoes, green beans, and winegrapes. These crops make up nearly a third of the acres we farm. This may explain why I am not concerned with pesticide residue. I am the chemical applicator on farm. I hold a commercial license to do so for which I studied long and hard and sat for a lengthy exam to qualify. I’m required to take continuing education credits every single year to maintain that license. I drive the sprayer, mainly for the grapes. I apply only what is needed, when it is needed, and no more than what is needed. I scout and used Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to determine the threshold at which a spray might be needed. We strictly follow the Pre-Harvest Intervals (PHI) for every thing we apply. Every chemical we use, whether organic or conventional, have “pre-harvest intervals” on the label. The pre-harvest interval is the time that must elapse between when the chemical is applied and when the crop can be harvested. This ensures that any residue will be below what the EPA has determined is safe. The label is the legal requirement by which I have to comply. As I have said before, my kids eat what we grow. I am going to put their health first above all other things. To that end, I am entirely comfortable with the fact that our food is safe, which may explain why I’m personally more concerned about people who don’t wash their hands than I am about pesticide residue.

Remember early on when I blogged about “the dose makes the poison”?  Much of what I use for sprays are nutrients – sulfur, copper, manganese, zinc, etc… You probably have these in your multi-vitamin and at that dose, those nutrients are beneficial. Applied in larger doses, those same nutrients are able to control for mildews and fruit rots in various fruits and vegetables. Some times they are organic. Some times they are synthetic. Either way, I am practicing good agricultural procedures, ensuring that our crop is safe to eat.

So onto my other best friend – the thermometer. I use 2 – one in the fridge and one to test the temperature of the food I’ve prepared. I keep our fridge at around 36º F. The FDA recommends below 40º F to ensure food is kept at a temperature below which bacteria can grow and thrive.

I also regularly use a food thermometer to check the temperature of food I’m preparing. I’m actually pretty much a stickler for checking temperatures.  I think it stems from being a dietitian working in both the hospital and nursing home setting. Both places have patients or residents who are already ill or have weakened immune systems and therefore must avoid food borne illness at all costs. Therefore checking food temperatures is almost second nature to me after having practiced in the clinical setting for so long.

My two favorite ways of cooking are using a slow cooker in the winter, and the grill spring, summer, and fall. When grilling, I want to be sure that the meat I’m cooking has reached the minimum internal temperature. USDA recommends all meat – beef, pork, lamb, and veal be cooked to an internal temperature of 145º F,  ground beef, pork, lamb or veal to 160º F, and all poultry to 165º F.  My favorite grilling recipe I will share with you at Thanksgiving time. It is a grilled turkey that has been brined first for 24 hours. If you want the recipe sooner than November, message me J

The USDA defines the “danger zone” as the temperature between 40º F and 140º F which is the ideal range for bacteria to flourish. Food should spend as little time as possible within this temperature range. So when reheating foods, heat it up to 165º F and when cooling food, cool it as quickly as possible to 40º F or below.  Below is a link to a Food Safety Fact Sheet from USDA.

I know that how we grow our produce on our farm is both healthy and safe and am entirely comfortable with my children eating it. I hope you know that by me as a mom keeping my kids health as THE first priority, I am therefore as a woman farmer also keeping your health as first priority. Now, all that I’ve said is not going to necessarily keep you from getting a food borne illness but it will reduce your risk. Your strategic plan – Step 1 wash it, particularly if it is raw produce you’ll be eating; Step 2 – check the temperature of cooked foods. I hope we share the same BFF’s!

Enjoy the fresh produce and grilling season!


  1. Jennie - We DO have the same BFFs!
    Using a meat thermometer helps you know you've cooked your food properly, and it helps you avoid overcooking, too - so everything tastes better!
    Our oven has a temperature probe that shuts the oven off when the meat is done. We love that feature.
    Great blog. I really enjoy your posts and your stories!

  2. Thanks Susanne! I'm glad we think the same! It helps keep our families all safe!