Spring has finally arrived with an array of color, sounds and new growth. When I think of Easter, I also think of the beautiful colors of eggs decorated for display. Here are a few tips to remember to keep your family safe as you enjoy this timeless tradition. To safely hard cook eggs:

• Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, covered by at least 1 inch of cold water.

• Cover the pan and bring water to a boil (full rolling boil) and then turn off the burner and let eggs sit in the hot water (12 minutes for medium eggs and 18 minutes for large eggs).

• Drain the hot water and run cold water over the eggs. This helps the green ring from forming around the yolks. Store in the refrigerator and use within one week.

If you are going to dye your eggs, here are some safety recommendations to follow from USDA.

Use food safe coloring kits or maybe try some natural food as dyes for some unique colors. (http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/easter_eggs_the_natural_way). If you are going to use the eggs, refrigerate or serve within two hours. Colored and/or hard cooked eggs need to be used within three to four days.

If you are going to hide hard cooked eggs, be very careful where you hide them. When eggs are on the ground they can pick up bacteria, especially if the shell becomes cracked. Try to hide eggs where they are protected from dirt, moisture, pets, and other sources of bacteria. Once found, wash and refrigerate or discard if the shell is cracked. For best practice, use plastic eggs for hiding and keep hard cooked eggs refrigerated until mealtime.

To enjoy the eggs as decorations, try blowing out the eggshells. Use caution as raw eggs may contain Salmonella so wash the egg in hot water and rinse in a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per half cup water. Use a small nail and gently poke a hole in both ends of the egg, then blow the raw egg out into a bowl, leaving the shell intact to dye.

If you have young children, save the colored egg shells to use in an art project for them to make a mosaic by gluing them onto paper or cardboard cutout for an Easter keepsake.

Ham is another food that causes some confusion because there are several types you can buy. Read the label carefully to see if it is fresh or fully cooked. Cooking times vary depending on the cut and size of the ham. A fresh, uncooked ham (12-16 pounds) will take 22-26 minutes per pound while a whole smoked, fully cooked ham may take only 15-18 minutes per pound. Both cook before eating, cured and fresh hams should be cooked to 160 degrees. Fully cooked hams can be eaten cold or reheated to 165 degrees. Use your food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ham away from the bone to get an accurate reading. For more details on cooking ham properly, check out http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/ham.html

While all the festivities are going on with the family gathering, is it safe to leave the food out all afternoon for folks to eat as they arrive? No it is not. While it might be convenient, most foods should be left out of the refrigerator for only two hours. If you leave the foods out, the food borne illness, Staphylococcus aureus has been found in high-protein foods, even salty ones like ham. To keep everyone safe, set a mealtime and store food within the two-hour time frame so no one gets sick.

Family gatherings are a great way to celebrate holiday traditions, make sure you follow safe food practices so everyone has pleasant memories.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.