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Packing the cooler for the beach

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POSTED: August 15, 2013 6:30 p.m.

It is the middle of summer and the kids are back in school. I am not used to that and I don’t think I want to get used to it. I remember Labor Day signaling the return to school, but that is not the topic for today.
There is still plenty of time left to pack in fun times on the weekends. This is just a quick checklist to remind you that while there is not another planet I would rather live on, Earth has its challenges. Mother Nature is in charge and she must be obeyed or suffer the consequences.
Sun protection. The big yellow ball that is the source of heat, light and life is not entirely benign. Thermonuclear radiation protection is still needed.
First, your eyes. Unless your parents dated outside their species, we each only get two of them (eyes, not the parents) and they have to last our whole life. (I remember when that was true of parents, too, but then I am just an old fuddy duddy).
Good quality sunglasses are mission essential. If you have a $50,000 truck but wear $10 sunglasses, then that is adequate evidence for me to question your priorities, judgment and critical-thinking skills. Polarizing lenses are not just more comfortable for your eyes, they cut the glare so you can see that oncoming traffic and avoid that idiot driver rapidly closing the distance between him and your family.
Next is skin protection. Now that I am an old guy, I have been scraped on by the dermatologist to get those precancerous cells gone. When I was lots younger and before — as Bill Cosby said — my beautiful body went bad on me, I was, believe it or not, a beach lifeguard. I absorbed entirely too much sun. I am paying for it now.
Please learn from my mistakes. Sunscreen works especially well for the little kids who don’t know any better and cannot make an informed judgment. Reapply sunscreen often, especially after coming out of the water.
Even further, mosquitoes and gnats can ruin an otherwise perfect day at the beach. Have repellents on hand. The higher the DEET content, the better.
I surely hope all the above is old news for you. But it is not just the stuff you put on the outside of your body that counts. It is what goes in as well. With all the fun and activities at the beach, it is easy to lose track of how long the potato salad has been sitting out. I am hoping the technology that tells us not to drink that beer until the mountains turn blue will also be applied to food labels of salad — macaroni, potato, chicken, tuna and shrimp — so when the label turns green even a toddler knows to chuck it before it chucks you up.
The following recommendations come from the UGA College of Family and Consumer Science and the USDA:
• When packing food into the cooler, take foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer to the cooler. Use ice or gel packs to keep coolers cold.
• Check food temperatures every two hours with a food thermometer. If food has been above 40 degrees F for more than two hours, discard it.
• Pack drinks and snacks in a separate cooler, so the food cooler is opened less frequently. A cooler that is full will stay cold longer than a partially filled one.
• Keep the cooler in the air conditioned part of the car for the trip to and from the beach, not in the trunk. Keep the cooler in a shady spot when you get where you’re going.
• Keep raw meats well wrapped and separate from ready-to-eat foods.
Once you make it to the beach, do all you can to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. A minimum of 140 degrees for warm foods and a maximum of 40 degrees  for cold foods are the critical temperatures. If possible, serve hot food in chafing dishes or slow cookers or on warming trays or steam tables to keep it above 140°F.
Serve cold foods in small bowls nestled in a container of ice to keep them at 40 degrees F or below. Check temperatures often with a food thermometer to be sure they stay above 140 degrees F or 40 degrees F or below. When a dish is empty or nearly empty, replace with fresh container of food, removing the previous container. Discard any leftover food that has been sitting out for more than two hours. Discard after one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees F. (Isn’t it always?)
One person if five in the U.S. gets food poisoning each year. Most of it happens in the summer when the bacteria have the heat they need to grow. Around 300,000 Americans are hospitalized with food poisoning annually. Five thousand die of food poisoning each year. With so many noble causes for which to give one’s life, Essie’s potato salad ain’t one.

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

 

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