DEAR SUN SPOTS: I called about the free perennials offered in the July 30 Sun Spots, but they are already gone. Do any other readers of Sun Spots have perennials they are thinning from their gardens and want to give away? Just give me a call at 207-783-6651.

— Mary Ann, no town

ANSWER: OK readers; don’t let those unwanted flowers go to waste when you’re playing in the garden. Let Mary Ann and other readers take them off your hands so they don’t land in the compost heap!

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Our side-by-side refrigerator/freezer died recently and although we were able to save some of the food in coolers while waiting for the new fridge, some of the food had to be thrown out because I was worried about making the family sick if they ate it. In case this was to ever happen again, I want to know how I could handle it better. How can I find out?

—No name, no town

ANSWER: I’m sorry to hear about this. I’ve gone through this myself, more than once! I learned that it’s very important to keep a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times and check it often to be certain that food is being stored at safe temperatures (40 degrees for the refrigerator and 0 degrees for the freezer.) Most food-borne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40 degrees F.

Besides the thermometers that are only a couple dollars, another helpful tip is to have a list on the foods in your freezer posted on the appliance door so you don’t have to open it to remind yourself what’s inside.

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, if your appliance isn’t working because you’ve lost power, or you are trying to hold out for the repairman to come evaluate it, leave the freezer door closed as much as possible. A full freezer keeps food safe about three days; a half-full freezer, about one day. You can add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer and can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or feel cold and solid to the touch.

As far as the refrigerator goes, most foods should be safe for about six hours. Discard any perishable food that has reached the temperature of above 40 F degrees for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Leave the refrigerator door closed. Every time you open it, cold air escapes, causing the foods inside to reach unsafe temperatures. Transfer refrigerated perishable foods to insulated coolers filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler to be sure the food stays at 40 degrees F or below.

Although we’ve all done this, it’s recommended that we don’t taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they’ve been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria can multiply rapidly. Some types will produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by cooking and could make you sick.

For more information about food safety, you can call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]

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