Carved pumpkins are for decorating – not for consumption

Once a pumpkin is carved it becomes a potentially hazardous food.

My neighbors are putting their best works of art onto their front porches this week in the form of pumpkins! Did you know that once a pumpkin has been carved it is considered a potentially hazardous or perishable food? That means if you are planning on making some of your own pumpkin puree, pumpkin muffins or pumpkin pie you should purchase a few extra pumpkins for cooking and baking. Pumpkins will become potentially hazardous once they are carved and sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.

What is room temperature and why does room temperature cause a problem for food? Perishable food is not to remain in the temperature danger zone of 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for any longer than two hours. After that length of time, bacteria will take advantage of the “friendly” environment and begin to rapidly multiply and could grow to levels high enough to cause illness. Bacteria can double every 20 minutes if the temperatures are in the danger zone.

Cold evening temperatures dropping to well below the 40 degree Fahrenheit mark might make you think a pumpkin sitting on the porch during night is safe. But what was the temperature during the day? Did the jack-o'-lantern work of art sit in the sun? Take into consideration that these festive carvings may have also been exposed to dust, critters and other natural parts of the outdoor environment. It is not recommended to wash, pre-treat or refrigerate pumpkins prior to using for decoration and then consume. Some of this dirt or bacteria can’t be washed away prior to cooking.

Michigan State University Extension recommends following food safety guidelines and using only clean, fresh produce for consumption and freezing. Splurge on a few extra pie pumpkins for your baking pleasure. The jack-o'-lantern pumpkin is a different species than the pie pumpkin and not truly designed for eating. You will find decorating pumpkins stringy, coarse and not as “meaty” as its counter parts. Pie pumpkins are thicker, “meatier” (making them difficult to carve), offering more pulp for pureeing. Make sure as you work to puree, the pulp does not sit out for more than two hours. Work quickly and with small amounts. Seeds may be used from any pumpkin for roasting and enjoying as a wonderful snack.

If you are considering canning your pumpkin products, remember pumpkin puree and pumpkin butters are not to be canned, but they can be frozen. Only cubes of pumpkin may be canned in a pressure canner. Enjoy the tastes and smells of the fall season. Spending a little time creating pumpkin dishes with fresh pumpkin only makes the flavors more special, just be sure to use fresh quality produce.

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