The holidays are upon us and although we will be preparing for less people this year, food safety should always be a prime concern. Additionally, this is not the year to have to take a trip to the emergency room since there is already a stress on our healthcare facilities because of COVID. Therefore, whether you are cooking for two or ten, safe food preparation is essential to keeping your guests feeling merry throughout the holidays. Use these quick tips for food safety to make all your holiday get-togethers merry and bright.
#1 Avoid the food “Danger Zone” for bacteria growth - Bacteria grows most rapidly at temperatures between 41°F and 135°F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours – or bacteria can grow to harmful levels. If the temperature is above 90°F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour. Make sure your refrigerator is set to below 40°F.
#2 Place raw turkey on the lowest shelf possible in the refrigerator - This will reduce the chance that juices and drippings contaminate ready to eat foods stored below it. Additionally, make sure you get perishable items chilled within 2 hours of shopping.
#3 Keep turkey at a safe temperature of 40°F throughout the thawing process to prevent bacterial growth that leads to foodborne illness - The USDA recommends only three ways to safely thaw a frozen turkey: 1, Refrigerator – Allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. 2, Cold Water – Submerge the frozen turkey, still in its packaging, in cold tap water. Change out the water every 30 minutes. Allow approximately 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. 3, Microwave Oven – Times and power settings will be vary from model to model.
#4 Skip the bird rinse prior to cooking - According to the USDA, rinsing a raw turkey in the kitchen sink can generate a fine spray of germ-contaminated water that settles on surrounding surfaces up to three feet away, including countertops, other food, kitchen towels and you! So it’s best not to rinse your turkey before cooking, any germs will be destroyed in the cooking process.
#5 Have two cutting boards for food preparation - it is not recommended to use a single cutting board to cut raw fruits, vegetables and meats, poultry and fish. Uncooked meat will leave bacteria on everything it touches, including the groves of your cutting board and your hands. Having two boards will help reduce the risk of cross contamination. If you absolutely have to use one board, cut all your vegetables and fruits first, then go to your meat or fish, washing it in-between with hot, soapy water. Afterwards sanitize with a few drops of bleach, then rinse again with hot water.
#6 Don’t eat raw cookie dough, pie crust or pie fillings – these foods can contain raw flour and eggs. Flour is a minimally processed agricultural ingredient and not intended to be consumed raw. Food illness, Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks involving raw flour have occurred. Poultry can carry bacteria such as Salmonella that can contaminate the inside of eggs before the shells are formed.
#7 Don’t let cooked rice and pastas sit at room temperature longer than 2 hours – once rice or pasta is cooked and begins to cool to room temperature, toxin-producing bacteria called Bacillus cereus is produced causing diarrhea and vomiting. Death has occurred in some very rare cases. If you need room in your fridge, remove drinks and put on ice instead – this will also stop guests from constantly opening the fridge door. Pickles and jams with high acid or sugar content can also be left out of the fridge for a while.
#8 If you are serving dips, salads, cold meats and other perishable foods you should remove the container after it has been out for more than 2 hours, discard any remaining food and replace with a fresh container - After food has been at room temperature for more than 2 hours, there is a risk that food poisoning bacteria has begun to grow. Don’t mix the fresh snacks with ones that have been outside for some time and don’t use the same old unwashed container for fresh food as there may be bacteria on the surface.
#9 Keep ham leftovers for only about two weeks and reduced salt hams, which are popular, but will not last as long as conventional hams - After reading the packaging labels, remove it from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, and store it in the fridge below 41°F.
#10 Only store holiday leftovers for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator - After that time, bacteria growth can cause food illness. After serving, separate what you can eat in that timeframe and then freeze the rest.
Make sure your holiday plans include food safety; it’s the most important ingredient in preparing food! Following these simple tips will help ensure guests celebrate illness free from food poisoning, or foodborne illness. Happy Holidays and remember to BE FOOD SAFE!