Don’t Get Bugged – Keep Holiday Foods Safe
Posted: November 26, 2012
The last thing anyone wants is to have a loved one develop a foodborne illness because of a favorite food they ate. Unfortunately, if you are not careful, foodborne illness can be an uninvited guest during the holiday season. While safe food handling practices are important throughout the year, the holiday season warrants special attention because of the unique foods and food practices popular during the season that can increase the risk of a foodborne illness.
With the hectic pace of the holiday season, it is easy to lose focus regarding food safety. Combine that with the fact we are often dealing with foods we do not prepare, except at this time of year, it is easy for food handling mistakes to occur. Specific areas where things tend to go wrong are in proper cooking of foods, juggling large numbers of dishes of food while maintaining proper temperatures, and storage of leftovers in a timely manner.
When it comes to cooking, the only sure way to know food has reached the recommended cooking temperature is to use a calibrated food thermometer. These are relatively inexpensive and available at local grocery and department stores. When cooking large pieces of meat, be sure to check the temperature in the thickest part of the meat and in two locations. The temperature of the turkey and stuffing should be a minimum of 165 degrees F. For fresh beef, veal, lamb, pork or ham, the internal temperature should be at least 145 degrees F for three minutes. Once the meal is over, it is important to consider how you will cool and store leftover foods. Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. So while it is relaxing to sit around the table after the meal, be sure that leftovers are put away promptly. If you are preparing parts of the meal the day before, it is important to cool foods quickly and then refrigerate. You may need to divide large quantities of food into smaller portions, or cool gravies and soups in an ice water bath, before placing in the refrigerator. As always, remember to keep hot foods hot (140 degrees or above) and cold foods cold (40 degrees or lower).
Another food safety concern over the holidays is the consumption of raw eggs in the form of eggnog and raw cookie dough. Fresh eggs may contain bacteria that can cause an intestinal infection called salmonellosis. Cooking destroys the bacteria. As a precaution, you may want to use pasteurized egg products when preparing these foods, especially if the people consuming the products are at a high risk of developing a foodborne illness. These include the elderly, young children, pregnant women and individuals who are immune compromised or have chronic illnesses.
Perishable mail order food gifts are another popular holiday item that carry some risk of foodborne illness. In general, the mail-order food industry has a good safety record, but as a gift giver or receiver, you need to take some precautions as well. If you are sending a food gift, be sure to let the recipient know ahead of time when the package will arrive. Once received, it should be opened immediately and checked. If it is labeled “keep refrigerated”, the food should arrive in a chilled or frozen state and be refrigerated immediately. If not, it should be returned to the shipper.
For a safe holiday season when it comes to food, remember the four keys to food safety:
· Clean – wash hands and food-contact surfaces often
· Separate – do not cross contaminate
· Cook – cook all foods to the proper temperature to destroy microorganisms
· Chill – cool and refrigerate foods promptly
For more information, visit www.holidayfoodsafety.org and for a chart with recommended cooking temperatures of foods http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.