Food Safety Tips for the Holidays
What’s wrong with this picture? Can you identify the food safety rule that this cook is breaking?
‘Tis the season for parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served. The last thing you want to do is give your holiday guests the unwelcome gift of foodborne illness. Following a few food safety tips, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can help prevent your holiday merriment from turning into misery.
Practice the four basic food safety measures – clean, separate, cook and chill.
Clean The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food.
- Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.
Separate Don’t give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination).
- Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won’t be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
- Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables). Always thoroughly wash knives after cutting raw meats, etc.
- Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood – and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
- Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
Cook Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF.
- Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
- Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough which contains raw eggs.
Chill Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
- Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods – and any type of food that should be refrigerated – within two hours.
- Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
- Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
- Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
- Never taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Use leftovers within three to four days.
Symptoms of Foodborne Illness
Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.
The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people – a few hours or a few days – and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk: older adults; infants and young children; pregnant women; people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system; and people who take medicines that suppress the immune system.
If you believe you or a loved one has a foodborne illness, see your doctor or healthcare provider if you experience the following:
- High fever (temperature over 101.5°F, measured orally).
- Blood in the stools.
- Frequent vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down.
- Signs of dehydration, including a decrease in urination, a dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up.
- Diarrheal illness that lasts more than 3 days.
Quick and Easy Recipe: Marinated Bean Salad
Need a last minute dish to take to a family dinner or holiday potluck? Try this quick and healthy recipe that you can put together in a snap. It requires no cooking or special prep and is a delicious compliment to a holiday spread (or any time throughout the year when you gather with family and friends to share a meal).
- 2 cans cut green beans
- 1 can wax beans
- 1 can kidney beans
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 green bell pepper chopped
- 2 tablespoons of diced pimiento
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup vinegar
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
- Rinse and drain all beans. Chop onion and pepper. Add pimiento and mix well.
- Blend dressing ingredients and cover bean mixture. Refrigerate at least overnight before serving.
Serving Suggestion: Add some cherry tomatoes (cut in half) just before serving for extra flavor and color.
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