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Easter 2016: Practice food safety when planning your meal for the holiday

I am sure you can feel the energy in the air as a result of there being more sunlight. I think we all appreciate spring more as a result of changes in seasons that are so noticeable. Spring is just a great time of the year for so many reasons. Cooking in some families also becomes lighter. Much of the food that is prepared for Easter and spring celebrations has some spring traditions connected to it. Some of these foods even have food safety connected to them.

When I think of Easter foods I think of colored eggs, pickled red beet eggs, roasted or baked ham and toasted leg of lamb. When I think of spring foods, it’s asparagus, dandelion greens and rhubarb.

I am sure many of you know the reason why ham is considered the traditional food that is served at Easter, but I am sure there are some that don’t. This question could make for some wonderful historic conversation at the Easter table.

The ham is a traditional food because of lack of refrigeration determined that ham needed to be eaten quickly. Remember, ham was cured and smoked and kept in the cold in the winter, and then the temperature would warmed and ham needed to be prepared. It is hard to believe, but there was a time when most Americans lived on farms, so meat could be safely cured, smoked and stored in the cold. Then, hams could be ready for early spring, making them the choice for Easter.

During the weeks or days before holidays I receive a lot of calls from consumers wanting to know about ham. There are a lot more choices out there than there used to be. I cannot stress enough that it is important to read labels so you know how to handle and cook ham. Almost all hams are already thoroughly cooked, so all you need to do is to heat it, you don’t have to cook ham like raw meat.

Many chefs over-cook a ham by cooking too long and at too high of a temperature, and then the meat is dry. To add flavor and moisture to ham I would suggest you make a glaze. It could be a mixture of a fruit-flavored jam or jelly like peach, add a little yellow mustard and a box of light flavored and colored gelatin like orange or peach. Stir together well and pour it over the ham and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Another spring Easter food is lamb. Lamb as a meal is based on the herd raising patterns of sheep. It is also the traditional centerpiece for people in Mediterranean and Hispanic cultures, and for many Americans of these cultures. Most lambs purchased for Easter are labeled “spring lamb” or “genuine spring lamb.” The term spring means that the lamb is less than one year at the time it is sent to market.

When you buy lamb it will have a paper whitish membrane on it called the fell. Before cooking or marinating the lamb, make sure to remove the fell, as it tends to make the flavor of the meat strong. Cooking for all meat and poultry is the same, the oven should be set no lower than 325 F. Don’t use a lower temperature because it may not kill bacteria that are present in food. An important factor in keeping food safe is to properly cook, but not overcook, and use a meat thermometer.

Raw eggs, like raw meat and poultry, may be contaminated with food borne bacteria. Salmonella is of particular concern. You should avoid eating raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs. Raw and cooked eggs should remain refrigerated at all times.

For more nutrition and healthy eating tips from Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.

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