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Food safety for a spooktacular Halloween: A lesson on pumpkins

We all wish we could go back in time 20 years ago when we didn't have to check our kid's candy bags for "bad" candy, but times change. Families know now they need to check candy in advance before the kids are let loose on it.

But, a frequently forgotten and many times not thought of issue with food safety around the Halloween time is the staple of the season, the pumpkin. Pumpkins come from fields frequently treated with fertilizer and cow manure. A pumpkin may sit in a farm stand, grocery store or by the side of the picking field open to the elements and potentially handled by many people looking for just the right "one".

If you think of the places a pumpkin may be placed when its brought home, especially prior to being carved; the dining room table, food preparation surfaces and children's hands coming into contact with the surface of the pumpkin, the potential for cross contamination is a large risk.

Remember to sanitize your pumpkins when you bring them home before having them come into contact with surfaces that can spread bacteria. Wash the outside with warm water and soap or detergent, to further sanitize it spray with a diluted bleach solution. Wash your hands and your children's hands thoroughly before re-handling the pumpkin.

The exterior of the pumpkin is not the only safety issue. Pumpkins are a low-acid food, (pH > 4.6) capable of supporting the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can cause the very serious illness, botulism, and under the right storage conditions can thrive. Including thriving on pumpkin seeds, which may be removed from the pumpkin to be roasted and may not be cooked right away. Or, on the interior of the carved pumpkin that has sat outside on a few warm fall days.

Using carving pumpkins for canning is also not recommended, not only are they stringy and generally rather bland, the issue of the low acid PH level is also potentially hazardous and can provide a breeding ground for botulism bacteria.

Remember to use safe food handling practices for your Halloween season and you will enjoy a happy and (healthy) spooktacular Halloween.

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