Autumn is time for tailgating parties, and packing lunches. Just as important as balancing flavors and proper nutrition, food safety should be a primary consideration. Storing and transporting foods even for short periods of time can be hazardous if proper care is not taken.
Germs like to grow in warm, moist places, between 45°F and 140°F, commonly known as the “DANGER ZONE.” Most germs grow best between room temperature and body temperature. To keep germ growth to a minimum, food should be stored below 40°F, and optimally served cold, or heated to at least 165°F. Which means, even in cool weather, pack cold items in a cooler with plenty of cold packs or ice. And transport hot items for a VERY short period of time, making sure they are reheated to at least 165°F before serving. If you plan to serve food at room temperature, it is imperative to serve it within two hours.
For safety’s sake, any food that has been in the DANGER ZONE more than two hours should be discarded. It is important to understand that the two-hour rule is cumulative; if a food has been in the DANGER ZONE for one hour then refrigerated or heated, do not begin counting anew. That casserole which has been on the buffet table for 90 minutes shouldn’t be reheated and served for dinner tomorrow night! If you are unsure how long a food has been in the DANGER ZONE, the rule is “When in doubt, throw it out!”