They're sinister, perhaps even deadly. And they can
lurk in the most unexpected places: church halls, Grange kitchens and
Food-borne contaminants such as salmonella, E. coli
and staphylococcus pose a serious public health risk. That's why
University of Maine Cooperative Extension educators are doing their part
to reduce that risk through the popular Cooking for a Crowd classes.
"We attract church people, agencies, civic
organizations and other groups who cook for many people as a
fundraiser," says Extension educator Louise Kirkland. "In Maine, it's a
really common activity, and we approach this like a prevention program
so no one will get sick if people learn the (proper food handling)
In the Extension classes held throughout the state
several times a year, Kirkland and Extension Educator Kathy Savoie cover
topics ranging from menu planning and record keeping to hand washing and
Among Kirkland's lessons: Serve hot food hot and
keep cold food cold. Always follow the two-hour rule: Food should sit at
room temperature for no longer than two hours, or one hour in the summer
months. Use an instant-read thermometer while cooking and periodically
while serving. Wash hands often, using soap and warm water for at least
20 seconds. And tell anyone with a cold or cough to stay out of the
"Whether you're serving the food or cooking, you
need to be a clean worker," Kirkland says.
That advice doesn't just apply to churches and soup
kitchens, either. Recent classes have included students from small
fast-food businesses in Maine.
Students who have taken the Cooking for a Crowd
classes have written to tell Kirkland how they have improved their
cleaning, dishwashing and cooking practices as a result. She finds it
encouraging that a growing number of professional and volunteer cooks
consider food safety a priority.