“Why do you have baking sheets in your car?” my friend asked me.
She was looking at the little metal baking pans tucked into the rear pockets of the front seats.
“I couldn’t find plastic trays that fit in my pockets,” I replied.
That didn’t really answer the question, did it?
We use the trays to avoid spilling food on the seats or on the floor of our car when we eat in the vehicle.
I looked for plastic trays, but they were all too big to fit in my pockets. Small cookie sheets filled the bill.
During the early days of the pandemic, my husband and I collected food to eat in our car or to take home. We put a lot of miles on our vehicle during the first months of the pandemic.
We liked to see other landscapes outside our home. While my husband was driving, I placed the food in its wrappers on our trays.
We found a place with a small herd of deer and visited them regularly. Sometimes the deer would walk directly toward our parked vehicle.
No, the deer could not sit in the back seat and enjoy a snack on a tray. Our car is too small for that.
Most of us had a few options when many restaurants for dinner closed during the first pandemic. We could have opted for takeout, meal delivery, grocery delivery, or self-cook meal kits mailed directly to our address.
When the pandemic started, most restaurants closed for a time. Some restaurants only allowed takeout and others had self-service windows. Unfortunately, some restaurants were permanently closed due to loss of revenue and staffing issues.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry lost $ 280 billion in sales during the first 13 months of the pandemic. Millions of workers lost their jobs temporarily or permanently. Others did not return to food service work.
Life has changed in many ways over the past two years, including the way we get our food. Fortunately, COVID-19 is not transmitted through food, according to the Food and Drug Administration. As we all probably know, the virus spreads mainly through tiny droplets in the air through close contact with people.
Most of us enjoy eating foods prepared outside our home, at least occasionally, and we must follow safe food handling recommendations. The Association for Food Safety Education or PFSE (at www.fightbac.org) recently launched a national campaign on food delivery called “Prep Yourself.”
I paraphrased some of the key messages from the new PFSE campaign for all of us to consider during the food delivery. Most of these tips will also apply directly to food collection.
- Before ordering, ask questions. What are the security standards of the company? How do you respond if the product is delivered at an unsafe temperature or if it appears that tampering has occurred?
- Make sure someone is home when food is delivered so it can be stored properly in the refrigerator. If no one will be home, be sure to establish a safe location that is cool, shady, and protected from pests. Be sure to inform the restaurant when you order.
- When the food is delivered, the responsibility for safe handling becomes your responsibility. Look for stickers on perishable foods that say “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen” and then follow the recommendations.
- Handle delivered food safely. If food is fully cooked, serve immediately or keep warm in an oven or preheated slow cooker. Cook foods raw or refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible. Be aware of the “danger zone” (40 F to 140 F). Food must be kept cold (below 40 F) or hot (above 140 F).
- Encourage family members and guests to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before eating. Have an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol available.
My family likes food from all over the world, whether it is cooked at home or in a restaurant. This week I present a recipe for slow cooker carnita typical of Mexican cuisine. It is courtesy of the PFSE and includes their food safety instructions. I added the nutritional information. By the way, “carnita” is the Spanish word for “small meats”.
Slow Cooker Chipotle Carnitas
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 to 3 individual chipotle peppers from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of adobo chipotles
3 pounds boneless skinless pork shoulder (excess fat trimmed)
1/4 cup orange juice (about 1 orange)
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
Fresh cilantro, minced (optional garnish)
Flour tortillas and / or corn tortillas
Wash hands with soap and water. Gently rub the garlic and limes under cool running water. Place the garlic, lime juice, oil, salt, black pepper, oregano, onion powder, cumin, bell peppers, and adobo sauce in a small food processor or blender. Pulse until well combined and a paste is formed. Rub the pork shoulder with the chipotle paste, rubbing all over well. Do not rinse raw meat or poultry with water. Wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw pork. Gently rub the orange under cool running water. Place the orange juice, chicken broth, bay leaves, and seasoned pork shoulder in a slow cooker. Cook for eight hours on low or four hours on high, until the internal temperature reaches 145 F on a food thermometer. The pork should be so tender that the meat falls apart easily. Remove pork from slow cooker and shred meat with two forks, removing excess fat. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Heat oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and drizzle with cooking oil. Place the carnitas on a baking sheet with half the juices and grill until most of the pork is golden brown, crispy and crusty, about 4 minutes. Remove from the oven. Gently rinse the cilantro, pat dry and chop. Garnish the carnitas with chopped cilantro, if desired.
Makes eight servings. Each serving of pork has 290 calories, 16 grams (g) of fat, 34 g of protein, 1 g of carbohydrates, 0 g of fiber, and 690 milligrams of sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., RD, LRD, is a food and nutrition specialist with North Dakota State University Extension and a professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson