The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages you to think of food safety advice as the most important ingredient in preparing food for the holidays. The following pulls together several useful food safety resources that will help you keep your holiday meal planning and preparation safe.
Holiday Food Safety Know-How
The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, developed by the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education, provides tips on how to make sure holiday meals are safe as well as delicious. Recipes, a shopping checklist, food safety tips, and children's activities are included in the multi-media program.
Holiday Food Safety Advice Video
The Holiday Food Safety Video on this page provides food safety advice and shows how to store, prepare, and serve food safely to prevent foodborne illness from ruining your holiday meal planning and preparation. It is available to watch in both English and Spanish.
Ready-to-Cook Foods and Safe Reheating
The holiday season is a good time to remember that ready-to-cook foods of all kinds, including raw, packaged cookie dough, or ready-to-reheat holiday meals, need to be cooked or reheated properly. Eating these kinds of foods right out of the package without cooking them or not bringing them to the proper temperature could cause foodborne illness from bacteria.
Food Safety Advice for Beyond the Holidays
Of course, food safety should be taken seriously all year, not just during the holiday season. Dealing with a foodborne illness is never pleasant, but it can also be dangerous or even deadly. This is especially true for people with weak immune systems, including the very young, the elderly, and people with diseases that weaken the immune system or who are on medicines that suppress the immune system (for example, some medicines used for rheumatoid arthritis).
Pregnant women also need to be especially careful to follow cooking directions on packages, since some bacteria are very harmful or deadly to unborn babies.
So pay close attention to the timing of your food prep and the quick refrigeration of leftovers, and practice the following four steps to food safety.
Clean: Wash Your Hands and Surfaces Often
Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Keep all surfaces and tools clean. This includes the obvious - kitchen countertops and cooking utensils - but don’t forget oven dials, faucet handles, soap dispensers, and handles of your oven, refrigerator, microwave, and pantry doors.
Separate: Keep raw meats away from other foods.
We all know this item on the food safety advice list, and that it is important during kitchen prep and cooking, but separation should actually start earlier… in your grocery cart, inside grocery bags, and inside your refrigerator. Also, when preparing foods, keep items like knives and cutting boards separate to avoid cross-contamination. For example, don’t chop vegetables on a cutting board you just used for raw chicken.
Cook: Cook to the right temperature.
Cooking food properly and thoroughly kills harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to determine if your food is cooked to a safe temperature, as color alone is not a reliable indicator.
The following are guidelines from FoodSafety.gov for cooking or reheating certain foods to the proper minimum internal temperature. Where noted, follow the guidelines for resting meat after it has been removed from the heat source. During this rest period prior to serving, the temperature of the meat stays constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful germs.
- Fresh beef, veal, or lamb in the form of roasts, steaks, or chops: 145°F and let rest for 3 minutes
- Ground meat dishes, including ground pork patties, hamburgers, and meatloaf: 160°F
- Poultry: 165°F, inserted at the innermost part of the thigh, wing, or leg, and the thickest part of the breast, while avoiding touching bone
- Fresh pork or ham: 145°F and let rest for 3 minutes
- Pre-cooked ham: Reheat to 140°F
- Eggs: Cook until the yolk and white are firm, not runny
- Egg dishes: 160°F
- Fish: Cook to an internal temperature of 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
- Shrimp, lobster, and crabs: Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque
- Clams, oysters, and mussels: Cook until shells open during cooking
- Scallops: Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm
- Leftovers: Thoroughly heat to 165°F
- Casseroles: Cook to 165°F, checking for doneness in several places, including the center
- Sauces, soups, and gravy: Bring to a boil when reheating
Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.
Bacteria grows on food most rapidly between 40°F and 140°F. In this “danger zone,” bacteria can double in number in as few as 20 minutes. Follow these practices for proper handling:
- Keep hot food hot (at or above 140°F by using chafing dishes, slow cookers, etc.) and cold food cold (at or below 40°F by putting food in containers on ice).
- Never leave food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. If the outside temperature is above 90°F, food shouldn’t stay out for more than 1 hour.
- Do not leave leftover food out to cool before putting it in the refrigerator. Today’s refrigerators allow you to refrigerate food items right away and avoid reintroducing bacteria to food that was previously cooked properly. Simply place the leftovers in shallow containers (use several if needed for larger portions) for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
- Maintain a refrigerator temperature at or below 40°F.
- Avoid putting milk or other dairy products on the refrigerator door.
There are plenty more resources for food safety advice and holiday food prepping tips online. Visit www.foodsafety.gov to learn about food recalls, symptoms of food poisoning, and keeping food safe when the power goes out. Read more about the pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses at www.fightbac.org. And view a wide variety of informative food safety videos from the USDA here.
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