Don’t Be a Bird Brain!

Microorganisms (microbes) can make our food very delicious or very dangerous. We have bacteria, fungi, and yeast to thank for many of our favorite foods like yogurt, blue cheese, beer, and sauerkraut. Microbes are key to making these foods. Minnesota Grown member Mill City Farmers Market highlighted some of the fermented foods people can enjoy by harnessing microbe power.

Although we can thank microbes for many delicious eating and drinking experiences, they can also be dangerous in other scenarios. Certain strains of bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter can cause discomfort, serious health problems, and even death. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Safety Website helps people understand food poisoning symptoms, take steps to prevent illnesses, learn about food recalls, and use smart food handling practices to avoid food poisoning.

Good food safety practices are important for all foods, including locally grown and organic foods. Minnesota Grown member Jane Jewett of Willow Sedge Farm shared some of her insights on food safety.

“There is no magic that prevents food-borne illness in locally grown foods, so you should take the same food safety precautions with locally grown foods that you take with any foods,” said Jewett. “Unfortunately, even pastured chickens can shed salmonella from time to time, so taking the recommended [food safety] precautions with chicken and eggs is important.”

Farmers around Minnesota work hard to keep their food as safe as possible between growing/raising it and selling it to their customers. Jewett noted, “One important way we keep our chicken safe at the market is by maintaining freezer temperature. I plug in my freezer at our market and even carry a back-up generator in case the market ever lost power.”

Given the hard work farmers are doing to sell high-quality, safe food, it’s important that customers help keep food safe in transport and at home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends four simple steps for food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Four Steps for Food Safety by Karen Lanthier

It’s important to clean your hands, surfaces, fruits, and vegetables to wash off any contamination. (Note that meat, poultry, and eggs should not be washed.) Keeping higher-risk foods like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separated from your other food is important when placing foods in shopping carts, packing your food in bags, refrigerating foods, and using cutting boards. Cooking helps eliminate bacteria that pose a food safety risk, but use a food thermometer to be sure food has reached a safe temperature. Lastly, don’t leave food sitting out that needs to go in the refrigerator or freezer, and never thaw or marinate food outside of the refrigerator.

A final recommendation from Jewett fits well with the four-step method for food safety. “Don’t forget the simple things like washing your hands. It’s one of the best ways to prevent cross-contamination.”

So whether you’re cooking at home or grilling at the cabin this summer, don’t forget to clean, separate, cook, and chill to enjoy Minnesota Grown foods all summer long. For inspiration, check out the wide variety of delicious, local foods in the Minnesota Grown Directory and use the What’s In Season chart to find foods that are tastiest right now. Many thanks to Jane Jewett at Willow Sedge Farm for sharing her insights on farming and food safety with Minnesota Grown.