Boaters usually welcome guests aboard, but there are some uninvited guests you want to keep off your boat.
Foodborne illnesses don’t take a holiday and could be a threat to your boating enjoyment. Take steps to eliminate this enemy and kill those unwanted, uninvited guests.
Reminders about washing hands before and after handling food are plentiful in the news and discussions about reducing bacteria. But, there are many other kitchen "smarts" that we often forget when on board. Although many people believe that they can tell if food might cause foodborne illness by looking at it or smelling it, most harmful bacteria are invisible and, therefore, escape the eye and nose.
Each spring is a good time to review and remind guests about the proper handling of food. This simple precaution could prevent you, your crew and your guests from becoming ill during your boating season.
Always Buy the Best Quality You Can
When buying food to take to the boat, buy carefully because foodborne illnesses can be caused by mistakes being made with food as it travels from the farm to your home or boat. Foodborne illness, often called "food poisoning", is illness caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, parasites or viruses, also known as microbes or pathogens.
At the store, only buy meat, milk and eggs that are stored in a refrigeration unit.
The deli salads and meats should be stored at a cool temperature (4C or 38F or less) and the deli worker should use clean disposable gloves or deli paper when slicing meat. After a bad experience at a deli counter, I insist on gloves or I don’t buy!
Frozen foods should be solid (-18C or 0F or less) and the package clean with no wet spots. Hot food should be sold hot (60C or 140F). Canned goods should be free of dents, leaks, stains, bulges, rust or any type of corrosion.
Fresh fruits and vegetables shouldn’t have any moldy or badly bruised sections. It’s your health and your holiday, so why not choose the highest quality.
For best quality products, buy and use foods before the "Best Before Date". Sometimes I have to reach to the back of the store shelf--but, why not?
Buy it Cold and Keep it Cold
Keep frozen foods in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to go. Always use ice or cold packs and fill your cooler with food. A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. When traveling to the boat, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of your car rather than in a hot trunk. We cover our coolers with blankets once on board to help keep the cold in.
Refrigerate your cold foods in the refrigerator or ice chest on board as quickly as possible after your purchase to help slow the spoilage of the foods and protect the quality of the products you took time and effort to select. If the label says "Keep refrigerated after opening", be sure to do so. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours--the sooner the better especially on a boat because putting warm food into a cooler melts ice faster.
To prevent juices from raw meat, poultry or seafood dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator, package and seal each separately in small containers or plastic bags, so they are in meal-sized portions and leak proof.
Clean and Sterilize
Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food and after handling meat, poultry, eggs and seafood. We have all heard this over and over, but on holidays some of us forget. Since bacteria doesn’t take a holiday, we have to remember to clean and sterilize on the boat too.
Clean and sterilize counter tops, sinks, cutting boards and utensils with a disinfectant cleaner or mild bleach solution before and after food preparation the same as you would at home. I find it easiest to keep a spray bottle handy with a bleach solution of 1 tsp/3 cups of water (clearly labeled). Then, I can just spray and wipe with paper towels and place in the garbage. This way, there is no bleach emptying into the lake through the sink.
Like home, use paper towels to wipe surfaces or change dishcloths daily to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges because they are harder to keep bacteria free.
Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood. Sanitize them for the safest results.
Thoroughly wash fresh produce under running water to remove dirt and residue. Because water and space are at a premium on our boat, I like to buy the prewashed, prepackaged salads. Scrub fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces such as oranges, melons, potatoes and carrots. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on produce. Bacteria can thrive in these places.
Never defrost food at room temperature, in the sun or on the deck. Thaw food in the refrigerator in cold water, or in the microwave if you will be cooking it immediately. I package food for the freezer in small containers, so that thawing in the refrigerator is quicker.
Marinate foods in the refrigerator--not on the counter. Sauce that is used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood should not be used on cooked foods. For basting cooked food, boil leftover marinade or prepare extra. Wash and sanitize your brush or use separate brushes when marinating raw and cooked foods.
Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food. Either wash the plate while the food is cooking or use another one.
When cooking, don’t forget to wash and sanitize your food thermometer after each use--even between testing different foods. Cooking times vary for meats, poultry and fish, so be sure to cook to the proper temperature.
Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a period of time at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Keep all soups, chili and hot dips piping hot before serving. If you’re visiting friends on another boat or participating in a "pot luck" meal, keep hot foods hot (or cold foods cold) in an insulated thermal container.
When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure the food is cooked thoroughly. For best results, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking and follow suggested standing times. Use a clean thermometer which measures the internal temperature of cooked foods, to make sure meat, poultry, egg dishes, casseroles and other foods are cooked all the way through. Insert the thermometer in different spots to ensure even cooking. Wash your food thermometer with hot soapy water before using it again. Sanitize it for best results.
To help keep foods safe from bacteria when barbequing, make sure your BBQ chef follows these four simple steps:
Wash and sanitize hands, BBQ utensils and surfaces that come in contact with food.
Ensure the barbeque is pre-heated before starting to cook; if you’re using a charcoal barbeque, use enough charcoal and make sure it is glowing red before starting to cook. Be sure the barbeque is not over-heated, as this can result in the outside of the food starting to burn before the inside is cooked. Use a thermometer to ensure that meats, poultry and fish are cooked to the appropriate temperature.
Keep meat, poultry, fish, salads and perishable foods in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them; if food is being stored in a cooler, pack the cooler with ice or freezer packs.
Don’t forget to use separate utensils and plates for raw and cooked foods and keep them separated. Keep serving bowls covered and store leftovers in separate shallow covered containers in the refrigerator and eat them within four days.
Following cooking, keep foods out of the "danger zone" (4C to 60C) or (40F to 140F) by preparing them quickly and serving them immediately.
When serving hot food buffet-style, keep it hot (60C or 140F) with chafing dishes, crock pots or insulated dishes.
Cold foods should be kept at 4C or 40F or colder until ready to serve. Place containers of cold food on ice for serving to make sure they stay cold.
Refrigerate custards, cream pies and cakes with whipped cream or cream cheese frostings, and foods prepared with mayonnaise or salad dressing.
Don’t serve them if refrigeration is not possible. A combination we use on our boat is a pie plate filled with ice cubes onto which we put the plate of cold food, i.e. shrimp.
Leftovers should be packaged and refrigerated within 2 hours--the sooner the better. All dishes, surfaces and cooking utensils should be washed with soapy water and the BBQ should be cleaned ready for next use.
It is quite often tempting to leave the dishes and leftovers. I find it’s easier to clean up the dirty dishes before the food dries to cement. I try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible and put leftovers away at the same time.
Enjoy your Invited Guests
Prevention is better than cure. Review these safe food handling tips with your crew and you won’t have to worry about any uninvited, unwanted foodborne illnesses showing up on your boat.
You can concentrate on enjoying boating and entertaining your invited guests on board, instead.