Ask the Expert Archive:

Q: Since only the inside of melons (such as watermelon) is eaten, does the outer rind need to be washed?
A: Yes, you absolutely need to wash melons before cutting them. When an item such as a watermelon is cut, anything that is on the outside surface of the melon will travel on the blade of the knife through the flesh of the melon during the slicing process. To prevent contaminating your fruit, thoroughly wash the outside of the melon with clean water before cutting. Once the melon is cut, any possible leftover bacterial from the rind could spread to the fruit and may begin to grow. Due to this the melon needs to be stored in the refrigerator at 41F or less and held for no more than 7 days. All fruits and vegetable should be washed before cutting.

Q: Is it okay to keep the food that is leftover after a party?
A: The safety of keeping food that is leftover after a party depends upon how long the food may have been left out. If time/temperature controlled for safety foods such as meats, cheeses, cooked vegetables, cooked pasta or cooked rice, were left out at room temperature for several hours they should be thrown away and not kept for use at a later time. If the foods were served and then placed into the refrigerator within 2 hours, they should be safe to keep for up to 7 days. Any foods that were left out of temperature control for more than 4 hours should be discarded as bacteria could have started to grow in the food and could potentially cause foodborne illness.

Q: My power has been out due to the storm. Is my food in the refrigerator safe to eat?
A: The safety of the food depends upon the types of food and how long the power has been out. Typical household refrigerators will keep foods cold enough to prevent bacterial growth for up to 4 hours without power, if you keep the doors closed. Foods such as meats (fresh, cooked, and deli), eggs, dairy products, and leftovers should be discarded if the power has been out for longer than 4 hours. If you can relocate perishable foods to a cooler filled with ice for storage, you will be able to keep the foods longer. Household freezers will typically keep food frozen for up to 48 hours without power if the freezer is completely full and the door remains closed. If the freezer is only half full, the length of time the food will remain frozen drops to about 24 hours. If your frozen foods still have ice crystals in them and/or are at least 41F or less, you can safely refreeze them but the quality of the food may diminish. Remember tasting food does not determine its safety. Always ere on the side of caution and discard foods when you are unsure of the time or temperature abuse the foods may have sustained. Here is a link to a list of common foods and their safety if left unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

Q: I always leave my meats on the counter to thaw. My grandson told me that was wrong. Is that true?
A: Yes, your grandson is right, thawing meats or other foods on the counter is not the correct method for thawing foods. There are several ways to properly thaw foods depending upon how much time you have available. If you do not need the food product for a day or more, it is best to place the food item in the refrigerator to thaw. If you need the food item sooner than that the best methods of thawing it are under cool running water in your sink or in the microwave if you will be cooking the product right away. Microwave thawing causes uneven temperatures within the food item. This may cause bacteria to grow within the foods unless the food is cooked thoroughly immediately after thawing.

Q: I am having a big Labor Day party. Everyone is bringing food to share. What do you recommend we do with all of the food to keep it safe?
A: If possible, try to keep the foods that require refrigeration such as meats, cheeses, salads, and other prepared or cooked foods cold on ice. An ice table that holds the food items during service is a great idea. If it is not possible to hold the items on ice during service, try to minimize the time the foods will be out of temperature control. Once the foods are placed on the tables for service, you should only keep them for 4 hours. After the 4 hour time frame, the foods should be discarded.

Q: Is there really such a thing as the 5 second rule?
A: No. Bacteria and other pathogens are everywhere. Once food hits the ground dirt, pathogens, chemicals nd other substances will latch on that food item. Since most of the time we cannot predict how clean a floor is, we should assume that it is dirty. While some areas may be cleaner than others, any commonly used floor should be presumed dirty with contaminants that can make you sick especially in kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, indoor and outdoor public areas, and especially carpeted areas. The best practice is to throw away food that has fallen on the ground, rinse it in clean water, or cook it if possible.

Q: I saw a pizza employee not wear gloves when adding toppings to a pizza. Won't that get people sick?
A: No. As long as the toppings were added to the pizza before cooking, any potential pathogens transferred from the employee’s hands to the toppings will be killed or reduced to a safe level during the cooking process. Most pizzas come out of the oven at over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, as long as the cooler is working properly, and the toppings are not used for salads or cold sandwiches, those toppings are safe to eat after the pizza is fully cooked. Remember, wash hands and wear clean gloves when handling foods that will not be cooked. 

Q: I have been told that I should wash my turkey before I cook it. Is that true?
A: No. This is not true. Washing your turkey in the sink will result in splashing and spraying. Any bacteria that might be on the outside of the turkey will become aerosolized (airborne) and land on all of the surrounding surfaces of the kitchen, including any food that might be sitting out. Once a surface or food is contaminated, bacteria can spread throughout your kitchen and make people sick. Additionally, the cooking process will kill any bacteria on the outside of the bird. Make sure that you cook the turkey to at least 165°F to kill the bacteria that may be on the inside of the turkey.

Q: Can I make and sell food from my house?
A: Only some foods are allowed to be made at home and sold from home. Some states, including Ohio, have Cottage Food Rules that allow certain foods to be sold from home, at restaurants, or though government organized events such as Farmers Markets. These foods do not require refrigeration, contain a proper ingredient label, and must be pre packaged in order to follow Cottage Food Laws. Most other foods need to be made and sold from a licensed facility. For more information please follow the Ohio link below or look up the rules in your state. You can also call your local health department for additional answers.