Summer holidays are the best. Sunshine, friends and family, picnics, potlucks, pool time ... all help to make great memories. The Fourth of July brings lots of family fun. We celebrate our great nation with fantastic fireworks, family picnics and backyard barbecues.

No matter where you find yourself July 4, you will probably see copious amounts of food. Whether enjoying a barbecue, traveling or spending time at home, take extra food safety precautions. Because foodborne bacteria thrive and multiply more quickly in warmer temperatures, foodborne illness can spike during summer.

The danger zone is the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees in which foodborne bacteria can grow rapidly to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Leaving perishables out too long in the danger zone is a common mistake people make, especially during warmer months.

One thing we sure don’t want to happen during this time is to be sick from a foodborne illness.


• Keep cold foods cold. When transporting salads, desserts or other cold foods, place them in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. If possible, have two coolers — one for cold beverages, the other for perishables.

Keep coolers closed until ready to use the food or beverage. Keep cold foods on ice when serving, and put them back into a cooler within two hours — one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees. A fun way to keep cold foods on ice is to fill a kiddie swimming pool with ice and place all of the cold foods in the ice.

• Clean produce. Rinse vegetables and fruits in clean running water. Don’t let them soak in a sink of water, as any contaminant can spread to the rest. After cutting produce, keep it under refrigeration or in your cooler.

• Watch for cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods. If the juices of raw meat touch vegetables and fruits, bacteria will spread to them and foodborne illness can result.

• Be aware the plate used to bring raw meats to the grill is contaminated and should not be used again for the cooked meat unless it’s been cleaned and sanitized. It is easier to use a different plate. Also, do not use any marinade you used for the meat as a dipping sauce unless it’s been cooked, it can contaminate cooked meat.

• Cook foods to their required minimum temperatures. To kill harmful bacteria and avoid illness, use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked thoroughly and has reached a safe internal temperature. The USDA recommends the following minimal internal temperatures: 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal, ensure a stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature; 145°F for fish; 160°F for hamburgers and other ground beef; 165°F for poultry and precooked meats like hot dogs.

• Good personal hygiene is important. Wash hands often. Hands are an easy way to transmit pathogens.

• Keep hot foods hot. After grilling, put away any hot foods not eaten as soon as possible. They should be cooled and not left to sit at outdoor temperatures.

BLT Pasta Salad

One 16-ounce package medium seashell pasta

1 pound sliced bacon

1-1/2 cups light ranch-style salad dressing

1 small onion, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, and rinse under cold water to cool.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat until browned and crisp. Remove from pan and drain.

In large bowl, stir together ranch, onion and tomatoes. Mix in cooled pasta. Pasta will absorb some of the dressing, don’t worry if it seems like too much. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Crumble bacon over top just before serving.

Fresh Corn Salad

3 large tomatoes, diced

1 large onion, diced

6 ears corn, husked and cleaned

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook corn in boiling water 7-10 minutes or until desired tenderness. Drain, cool and cut kernels off cob with a sharp knife.

In a large bowl, toss together corn, tomatoes, onion, basil, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Chill until serving.

Watermelon Feta

Mint Skewers

4 ounces feta cheese, in a block, cubed

1/4 large watermelon, cubed into bite-sized pieces

Mint leaves

Small skewers

Balsamic vinegar for drizzling (optional)

To assemble, stack feta and watermelon with a mint leaf in between. Using a skewer or toothpick, skewer the stack.

For added flavor, drizzle reduced balsamic vinegar over the blocks. This is entirely optional but also entirely delicious, so that’s your call.

Drizzle: Add 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and reduce for 3-5 minutes until thickened. Drizzle over the skewers.

Patriotic Berry Trifle

1/4 cup plus 2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 premade angel food cake cut in 1-inch slices

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups heavy cream, at room temperature

2 pints blueberries

2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced

Heat 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, stir in almond extract. Brush both sides of each slice of cake with the syrup.

Cut slices into 1-inch cubes. Beat remaining 2/3 cup sugar and cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth and light. Add cream, beat until smooth and consistency of whipped cream.

Arrange half the cake cubes in bottom of a 13-cup trifle dish. Sprinkle evenly with a layer of blueberries. Dollop half the cream mixture over blueberries, gently spread. Top with a layer of strawberries.

Layer remaining cake cubes on top of strawberries, sprinkle with more blueberries, top with rest of cream mixture. Finish with rest of strawberries and blueberries, arrange in a decorative pattern. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

MICHELE ATKINS is the director for the Henry County Extension Service. Her email address is

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