DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is the best way to handle hot leftovers? I have always thought they should never be put in containers with airtight lids until cooled, for fear that botulism can form when anything warm is covered tightly. I'm also concerned that putting hot items in the refrigerator can cause problems in neighboring foods already cooled. -- R.T., Portland, Oregon
DEAR R.T.: Botulism is a serious food poisoning caused by consuming foods that contain a toxin from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum). These bacteria multiply by giving off spores, which can produce the toxin that causes botulism, a severe and often deadly illness.
C. botulinum differs from other bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli or strep, in that it grows in low-acid, oxygen-free environments. The botulism-producing spores are resistant -- but not immune -- to heat. C. botulinum is a problem with improperly processed canned foods, such as vegetables, fish and meat. To be safe, food preservation techniques, including canning, must include a heating component designed to kill the botulism spores. Outbreaks of botulism are usually traced to inadequate heating processes or temperatures.
Placing food in an airtight container is unlikely to increase the risk of botulism unless the bacteria are already present. It's unlikely that these particular bacteria would pose problems in properly cooked foods when good sanitary practices have been followed. For more in-depth information about botulism, see the NIH page at b.link/r42w55tb.
Leaving food containers uncovered increases the chances that other airborne microbes can enter your food. In the refrigerator, the air in the container will contract as it cools and can pick up errant refrigerator odors.
It's best to refrigerate leftovers in sealed containers within two hours of use. By rapidly cooling these foods to refrigerator temperature (40 F), they will remain safe. Consider using resealable containers with a large surface area. I place flexible, reusable ice packs on top and around food containers to facilitate the cooling process.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am seeking information on the nutritional value of domestic rabbits. Someone told me that rabbit has more protein than chicken or turkey. Is this true? -- H.H., Las Vegas
DEAR H.H.: Rabbit's vitamin and mineral content is comparable to other meats, but it is leaner than chicken, turkey or beef. Because of its lower percentage of fat, rabbit yields more protein per pound. One four-ounce serving of rabbit provides 37 grams of protein, which is 74% of the adult daily value (DV); it also provides B vitamins, including three times the DV for vitamin B12 and about one-third the DV of iron.
Rabbit's leanness creates challenges with its preparation, as overcooking can result in a tough meat. This is why recipes frequently call for rabbit to be marinated, braised or made into a stew.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.