Seems every summer, the media reports cases of Listeria, Salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. You start to wonder whether it's safe to eat anywhere, including in your truck, a roadside café or even grilling at home. But don't be afraid to indulge your tastebuds. Here are some tips to stay healthy on the road and enjoy your meals.
If you're at the market looking for barbecue or deli items, get the freshest chicken you can find. Sneak a sniff at the wrapper – if it smells, don't buy it. Check the label – you really don't want to get 'enhanced' chicken, since it may have been injected with various flavors of salted water. (That can cause bacteria to migrate into the chicken meat itself.) The same rule of thumb applies to steaks and other marinade-injected meats.
'Tenderized' steak? Nope. Buy the non-tenderized (if you're not sure, ask the butcher). Pound your purchase with a meat mallet when you get it home. Or find some really delicious marinades in a cookbook or online that you can make from ingredients in your cupboard. You'll keep your 'best BBQ in the neighborhood' reputation when everyone gets a taste of your marinated, fork-tender steak, grilled to perfection.
You know not to eat fish that's discolored or dried out when you see it in the seafood case. And here's an easy tip – get your fish the last thing before you head for the checkout counter, then get it into the refrigerator right away. If you're out fishing and getting ready to cook your catch, clean it thoroughly in a pan of fresh water; scale it under running water if possible. (Remember to bury the guts so your camp doesn't attract raccoons -or worse- that night.) Is there anything better than a fresh-caught rainbow trout with a golden cornmeal crust?
Don't eat raw eggs at any time of year, and unless that salad with hard-boiled eggs in it has just come out of the refrigerator, skip it too. The foods your grandma warned about in the summer heat – mayonnaise, cream cheese, salad dressings, cream and milk – must be kept very cold right up until you take the first taste or sip.
When you don't have time to cook, and you're grabbing something at a deli or diner, watch to be sure the cheese and deli meats aren't sliced with the same machine. The help behind the counter should also change gloves whenever he or she switches to meat from cheese or vice-versa. And don't throw the rest of your purchase into a cooler in your truck and forget it for a day or two – it shouldn't be eaten if there's any danger it got lukewarm.
At farmers' markets or produce stands, get the freshest, non-wilted vegetables you can find, with the soil washed off already. Buy just the amounts you can eat in a day or two. Fruit like peaches and plums shouldn't be 'mushy' to the touch and have clean, unbroken skins. If the fruit's been peeled and cut up into salads, it must be kept on ice or in a refrigerator before it's sold.
As with most illnesses, they are often unavoidable, but if you take these steps, you'll minimize your chances of getting yourself (and your truck) put of commission by food-borne illness.
Image by Jeff Turner via Flickr