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Ringing In the Holidays with Treats? Don’t Get the Food Safety Blues!

Posted: December 9, 2014

Rick Kralj, M Ed., RDN, LDN, Senior Food Safety & Quality Extension Educator shares some seasonal cautions to keep us healthy during the holidays!

Yes, it is that time of year again, family and friends getting together over the holidays to celebrate. As with any celebration, food seems to take on a special meaning. Items that maybe we only get to eat once year become cherished delights. We delight our guests and family with only the best of our creations. Oh, the memories that resonate from these events! Unfortunately, there are those events that leave a not-so-pleasant memory.  You know the ones, where maybe the next day you have this sour taste in your mouth and gurgling in your stomach and you don’t feel like eating, knowing that if you take one bite, you may not make it to the bathroom in time.

Each year food-borne illness affects thousands of adults over the holidays. Why? Well, the answer seems to stem from the mishandling of food, particularly, those items that need temperature control. It seems that we just don’t think about the importance of keeping cream cheese spreads, cheese and meat trays and cooked food at proper temperature control to maintain the safety of the food. Fortunately for the food-borne bacteria, this is a wonderful gift of having time and temperature (room temperature) on their side to be able to grow and reproduce. In order to control the growth of these food borne pathogens, here are some simple practices to follow:

  • First, keep cold foods cold -- add ice into a shallow pan to create a surface to set cheese and meat plates, cream cheese and sour cream spreads onto. The shallow ice pans allow the ice to radiate the coldness around those items keeping them at a temperature around 40 °F.
  • Keep hot foods hot -- use crock-pots, roasters and ovens to keep food hot. The most frequent abuse that leads to a food-borne illness is when hot foods are allowed to stay in the temperature danger zone of below 135 °F. Assuming the notion that once the food is cooked nothing can grow on it will eventually lead you to be celebrating your holidays from the confines of your bedroom or bathroom.

Focus your attention on controlling the temperature and time. If you don’t have means to keep items cold, limit the time those dishes are out at room temperature to a maximum of 2 hours. This rule also applies to those hot dishes; don’t allow them to stay out on the counter for more than 2 hours.

Remember, you can control and lower the risks for a food-borne illness to leave your guests or you feeling blue over the holidays. Take time to plan for serving food safely.