• Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Merry Christmas and Travel Safely

    This week’s blog post comes from a Meat Counter Mom with a heavy heart. My good friend, Dr. Chris Raines was killed in a car wreck this weekend. Chris and I were friends and roomies in graduate school. Chris sent me my first-ever text message. It was about an apple-cinnamon bacon project we were going to try. Although Chris was younger than me, I looked up to him in the digital world. He was the innovator. He was tweeting before I knew that it wasn’t something that birds did. He started a meat blog long before I ever considered it. And, when I decided to enter the twenty-first century and start a blog and a Twitter, it was Chris that I consulted (via text message). It was his idea to make my blog a ‘Mommy’ blog.
    He was silly and goofy and a great guy to be around. He was incredibly smart, but he could talk to anyone. He was really concerned that people were well-informed. Teaching and educating were his passions. My last correspondence (a text) with him was about helping students (his at Penn State and mine at Arkansas) prepare for an academic competition.
     I will miss him so.
    This is a pic of Chris, me and our other roommate, Julie (she’s a veterinarian, now).
    But, my blogs are not really supposed to be about me and my issues. My blogs are supposed to be about information that other moms need to keep their families safe and healthy. I just wanted to share about Chris and let everyone know what a great guy he was and that without him there would be no Mom at the Meat Counter.

    On to the info…
    Everyone seems to travel during the holiday season. If you are not headed to a grand parent’s (or multiple grandparent’s houses) for the holiday, you may be headed to the beach or the ski lodge in the next few weeks. Our family has traveled to Denver in January the past few years to stand in the cold and look at cattle.
    Everyone is traveling. Money is tight and if you have a freezer full of meat, you hate to travel and have to buy meat at your destination.
    But, how do you get it there safely?
    First, is it frozen? Frozen meat is the easiest to travel with. If you have some steaks or roasts in the fridge that you want to travel with, freeze them. Freezing for a few days won’t hurt their eating quality. Frozen meat has further to go before it reaches the DANGER ZONE.  
    If you are going to travel more than an hour or so, you’ll want to pack your meat in a cooler. Make sure you wash the inside and outside of your cooler before your fill it with meat. You also want to save packing the cooler as one of your last chores before you head out the door. That will minimize the time the meat is in it.
    You want to fill the cooler as full as possible, so use as small a cooler as you can. Excess air in the cooler will cause the meat to thaw faster. If you can’t fill your cooler up with meat, put a towel or blanket inside the cooler to insulate the air. You’ll want to put the meat on the bottom and the towel on the top. Air will escape into and out of the cooler through the lid, so you want to insulate it from the top.
    For trips shorter than 5 or 6 hours, frozen meat will probably stay frozen in a cooler, especially in cool, winter weather.  If you are going to be traveling for longer periods, you can use those frozen, blue ice packs. Pack them next to the edge of the cooler and on top of the meat. Think about where the warmth will be coming from, the top and the sides.  Don’t put ice on frozen meat, the ice may actually be warmer than the meat, and, because it will melt into water, ice will thaw the meat faster than air would.
    Some people may consider dry ice. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. You can use it to keep meat frozen, but it can be dangerous if you keep it in the car with you or if it touches your skin. Follow the link and read about the safety of dry ice before you decide to use it.
    If your meat is not frozen, you can still travel with it. Here is where I would suggest using ice. It would be best to package any meat you are traveling with in water-tight packages, like zip-lock bags. If the meat is already in a vacuum package, it will be fine. Put the meat on the bottom of the cooler and the ice on top of it. Meat freezes at a lower temperature than water (28° F), so the ice will not freeze the meat. You can use the ice as an indicator of the cooler temperature. As long as the ice is solid (you know, still ice) the meat should be cold enough. If the ice thaws, drain out the water and buy more ice.
    If you packed fresh, uncooked meat, the ice could have harmful bacteria on it. Don’t use it for drinks or anything else. Just throw it out.
    After you’ve packed your cooler, you may consider putting a blanket over it, especially around the openings. That should help insulate any warm air that may try to seep in it. If it’s cold outside and the car will be warm, put the cooler in the trunk or back so it will stay colder. Also, try to minimize how many times you open it. Every time you open the cooler, all the cold air will escape and will be replaced by warmer air.
    I hope everyone enjoys this Holiday Season and has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope you get to enjoy your family and that you eat well. But, please… Travel Safely.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Bring it home safely

    In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was doing some grocery shopping, and I saw some things in other shoppers’ carts that really concerned me. No, it wasn’t their dirty, screaming children. There were food safety issues all over the store.
    One particular cart contained fresh, uncooked pork chops with a bag of Clementine oranges sitting directly on top of it. I considered (for a second or two) snapping a secret picture with my cell phone, but decided that might create a scene. Then, I considered recreating the incident and taking pictures, but that would have been so wasteful.
    The store is responsible for keeping meat products in a clean environment and at safe temperatures, but as soon as you select a package and place it in your cart, it’s all on you.  Only you can control how safely that package is handled from the time you select it until it is served to your family.
    To get things started, the folks at www.foodsafety.gov have a blog about keeping food safe while shopping called Start at the Store. It also contains a video. They talk about inspecting cans to make sure they are not dented and fruit to make sure it is not bruised.
    A friend of mine sent me this picture. Se was extra careful about
    keeping her fresh meat away from the rest of her groceries.
    When you are shopping for groceries, you should always wait to buy milk, meat and eggs until last. They are perishable and you want to minimize the time they spend outside of refrigeration. You want to observe the “2 hour rule.” This simply states that refrigerated food should not be stored at room temperature for more than 2 hours. When it’s hot outside (above 90°F), you should have your refrigerated foods home in the fridge in an hour.
    Also, when you are selecting that perfect cut, try to handle the packages by touching only the packaging. Don’t poke on the meat with your fingers. Even though they are wrapped in plastic, it is not a perfect barrier, so when you handle the meat, the germs from your hands could still transfer to the meat.
    You have every right to examine every package in the case to find that perfect one, but when you find it, put the rest of the packages back where you found them. Don’t leave them stacked up on each other. Those coolers can only keep the meat cold if it is below a certain point within them. Most stores only stack their packages three deep so the coolers can do their job efficiently.
    At most grocery stores today, there are plastic bags close to the meat counter for you to place the packages in. They will be just like the ones you’ll see in the produce section. You should use these to keep juices from the meat from dripping onto other foods in your cart.
    Remember that sandwich meats and hot dogs are already cooked. They need be refrigerated, but you don’t want to get raw meat juices on them. Don’t put them in the bag with the raw meat.
    When you put your raw meat packages in your shopping cart, keep it away from other food items. Do not set it on top of other foods. Do not set other foods on it. Remember those Clementine oranges? They were potentially contaminated. You will cook your meat to kill any bacteria that is on it, but fresh fruits and vegetables may not be cooked before they are eaten.
    But, don’t oranges have a thick peel? Even if they have a thick peel, the surface could carry bacteria that could be transferred to your hands when you peel it and then to the interior of the food when you eat it! Just keep it separated!
    After you go through the check-out line, make sure that raw meat packages are bagged separately from other foods. I think store employees are being trained in food safety and many of them will bag your raw meat items separately without you even asking.
    If you like to use those environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags, use a disposable one for your raw meat products. The juices from your meat could drip onto the reusable bag and allow bacteria to grow in it between shopping trips. Then, it would contaminate your food on the next trip to the store.
    If you are going to make it home and get your meat products in the fridge in less than two hours, everything should be ok without a cooler or ice pack. If it’s really hot outside (greater than 90°F), you should have it home in one hour and put your meat products in the front of the car in the air-conditioning rather than in the trunk.  If you can’t make it in an hour, you should put your meat, milk, eggs and other perishable items on ice.
    Once you get home, get your perishable meats, milk and eggs unloaded and in the fridge.  Double check all your shopping bags for everything that needs to go in the fridge.
    Enjoy this crazy Christmas season. I love it! I would also love some comments or questions for topics for my next blog. Thanks!