“Should I Eat That Baked Potato?” Food Safety

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Baked potatoThis holiday season might be a little different than past seasons have been. We might not gather with as many people, family members might choose to wear a mask, some families might try to serve meals outside if the weather cooperates, but one thing should remain the same and that is making sure we follow proper food safety measures.

I am that family member that shows up to a cookout with my digital food thermometer. I refuse to let Salmonella or Escherichia coli (E. coli) get the best of me. My husband use to roll his eyes but has come around to understanding my reasons. The average person probably understands the basics of food safety, such as washing hands and rinsing produce, keeping ready to eat foods away from raw meats, and cooking meats to the proper internal temperatures. However, there are some food safety precautions that might not be as well known.

Who doesn’t love a good baked potato? It can be served basic with just butter or packed with cheese and sour cream or ranch dressing. Some people like to add chili or pulled pork for a multi food group meal. What could possibly go wrong with this southern food staple? Two words, Clostridium Botulinum, or otherwise known as the organisms that can grow to cause botulism. Botulism is a rare but severe form of food poisoning that can result in blurred vision,
difficulty swallowing or breathing, and slurred speech among other symptoms. If not treated the symptoms could worsen and cause paralysis of certain muscles, including those used in breathing. So now you are wondering how this happens and what you can do to prevent this from happening so you can enjoy your baked potato, right? Potatoes need to breathe. When aluminum foil is wrapped around the potato to bake, it creates an oxygen-free environment and allows the potato to cool at room temperature in the aluminum foil after cooking creates the ideal environment for Clostridium Botulinum to grow. When potatoes are removed from
the oven they need to be taken out of the aluminum foil so the potato is exposed to air and that will prevent the risk of getting botulism.

Another holiday favorite is pie. The risk is not as severe as getting botulism from potatoes but some pies still come with a risk. Fruit pies, such as cherry or apple, are safe to keep on the counter after baking because of their sugar content and pH level. However, custard-based pies (pumpkin or sweet potato) are different and require refrigeration after cooking. The good news is if you buy your custard-based pie at room temperature then they are safe to leave out on the counter. Those pies have been tested and deemed safe to leave out.

I hope you enjoy your holiday season and stay safe. If you have any food safety questions, please call the Extension Office at 828-586-4009.