Posted: November 26, 2012
Holiday food safety guidelines are the same as at other times. Prevent food spoilage by temperature control, cleanliness, and time management.
Start with cleanliness to avoid cross-contamination. In the midst of festivities it is too easy to place the roasted turkey on the counter where the raw meat was a few hours before or to pick up the spoon used to mix the bread, egg, and broth for the stuffing. The cooked foods then are contaminated with bacteria from the raw food prepared earlier. Have clean hands; work on a clean and sanitized counter or work surface; and use clean platters, knives, spoons, or other utensils when handling the cooked food that you plan to wrap for storage. It is a good practice to spray counters with a sanitizing solution that you can make with one tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon water. Also clean the sink with the sanitizing solution.
Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left at room temperature longer than two hours. Bacteria can grow quickly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. Quickly chilling the food after a meal reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Divide cooked foods into shallow containers for rapid cooling. Divide a large cut of meat or whole poultry into smaller pieces and wrap separately or place in shallow containers before refrigerating. Stir soups and stews to speed the release of heat. Deep pans can be placed in a sink of cold water to hasten cooling; replace the surrounding water as it absorbs heat from the food. Cover storage containers when the food is cooled. Placing warm food in the refrigerator does not harm the food, but it warms the refrigerator including warming other food already in the refrigerator. Avoid over filling the refrigerator. Adding too much food to the refrigerator at one time will warm the air in the refrigerator. Allow space between foods in the refrigerator for cold air to circulate.
After the meal, remove any meat from the carcass, cut into small pieces and refrigerate or freeze immediately. Refrigerators should be 40° or below, and freezers should be 0°F or lower. Stuffing must be removed from the turkey carcass before it is refrigerated or frozen. The moisture content and the density of the stuffing is a good medium to support the growth of bacteria. Removing it from the turkey allows it to cool more quickly. Pies with a custard base such as pumpkin need to be refrigerated.
Cooked turkey, side dishes and gravy can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days. Slices or pieces of plain turkey can be frozen for up to 4 months; turkey covered with broth or gravy can be frozen for up to 6 months; and cooked poultry dishes, stuffing and gravy can be frozen 4 to 6 months. Freezer storage times are based on quality; if they remain frozen, they will be safe indefinitely. Date packages before storing, and always use the oldest first.
Use safe practices when reheating leftovers. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator; never defrost foods on the kitchen counter. Reheat to an internal temperature of 165°F to destroy any microorganisms.