Fall is a wonderful, colorful and flavorful season. Many people love the falling leaves, hayrides, carved jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkin-flavored foods and pumpkin patches.
Pumpkin carving is a favorite fall activity for families, though it is important to keep safety in mind.
Most children love digging out a pumpkin’s seeds and strings and decorating the gourd with glitter, glue, craft paint and markers. This is a great time for family bonding and creating holiday memories.
Remember, an adult should carve pumpkins or closely supervise youth while they carve them. Special pumpkin- carving tools are specifically designed to help with this activity.
Since their motor skills may not be fully developed, younger children should not use knives of any kind.
You may prefer to buy pre-painted and decorated pumpkins. Are craft-painted pumpkins safe to eat after the holiday?
According to Amy Simonne, UF/IFAS Extension specialist and professor of food safety and quality, it depends.
“It is well known that glitter and other decorating materials are not intended for human consumption,” she says. “There is little research on whether craft paint and markers penetrate the flesh of pumpkins or on the toxicity of other decorative products used on pumpkins.
“Mature pumpkins have quite thick skins. If these pumpkins are painted, individuals can wash the paint off the outside of the pumpkin (if possible) at the end of the display. This washing also eliminates any remaining dirt. Then carefully peel or cut the skin off before using the flesh and seeds for food.”
Think about food safety when planning to prepare foods using fresh pumpkins. If a carved pumpkin has been left at room temperature for several hours or days, the meat is not safe to eat. Bacteria begin to grow, and you don’t want to risk a foodborne illness. Do not let cut pumpkin sit out at room temperature for more than two hours during preparation before use.
Also, keep in mind that large pumpkins typically used for carving are not the same as those labeled as pie or baking pumpkins.
If you want to use pumpkin in your favorite recipe, the best approach is to buy two pumpkins: one for carving and the other for eating. This will also help sustain and support pumpkin farmers.
Try a new recipe for pumpkin soup, pie or bread, and roast the seeds. Pumpkins are a source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
For help with horticultural questions, contact your county extension office. Note that staff may be working outside offices during COVID-19. For extension information, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.