Food & Drink

Food Safety Advisor gets left out

So you left that half-eaten Christmas turkey in the oven overnight. Is it still safe to eat?

What about those leftovers that have been in the fridge for a week? Or that boxed pizza you left on the counter last night?

You can get answers to those questions (no, no and no) by calling Washington State University Pierce County Extension’s Food Safety Advisor program.

But not for much longer. Thanks to county budget cuts, the program will end this month after nearly 30 years.

Closing the Food Safety Advisor program is just one way the Extension Service is dealing with the loss of about $550,000 in revenue from Pierce County over the last year. The county cut spending on Extension Service programs as it struggled to balance its budget.

Jim Kropf, Western District director for WSU Extension, said the agency has lost four employees as a result of the budget cuts – including the coordinator of the Food Safety Advisor program.

Under the program, the extension service fields phone calls five days a week and shares food safety information at venues such as the Puyallup Fair.

A full-time coordinator trained volunteers to answer questions about cooking and preserving food in a safe manner.

Helen Arnestad, one of 20 active volunteers, said the food safety hot line receives five to six calls a day even in slow times. During the holidays and other busy times it fields many more.

Volunteers answer a lot of questions about how to cook food for the holidays and how to properly can food. Many people want to know how long they can keep leftovers. The answer: no more than four days.

“A lot of people want you to tell them it’s OK (to eat the leftovers) because of the cost they’ve got in it,” Arnestad said. “Most of them know it’s not OK. They just want someone to tell them.”

Then there’s the woman who called to say her turkey wasn’t thawing fast enough.

“Do you have it in water?” asked a safety adviser.

Said the caller: “Yes. I go in there and flush every 30 minutes.”

Turns out she wanted to free up the kitchen sink, so she was using the toilet to thaw the bird.

“We were all just totally grossed out with that one,” Arnestad said.