Keeping Food Safe This Holiday Season

Keeping Food Safe This Holiday Season

Roasted Turkey
By: Joni Garcia MS, RD, Contributing Blogger

It’s the holiday season and we often celebrate this time of the year with family, friends, and food.  While it’s easy to get wrapped up (no pun intended!) in the fun, following these simple food safety tips will help keep bacteria from ruining the festivities.

Food Prep

Hand washing
Hand washing can help to get rid of more germs, dirt, viruses, and bacteria than you can imagine.  Wash before you begin to prep food and wash often. For example, wash hands before setting the table, after taking out the garbage, and after cutting raw chicken.  Use warm, soapy water and lather for 20 seconds.  Singing the Happy Birthday song twice is always a good guideline.

While it’s easy to thaw on the counter, bacteria grow easily and quickly at room temperature.  Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave.  If defrosting in the refrigerator, transfer the food from the freezer over to the refrigerator 1 or 2 days in advance. If you choose to defrost in the microwave, then immediately cook after any way you wish (such as the stove top or oven).  You can also take smaller-size frozen foods out of the freezer and cook them right up- such as hot dogs and frozen vegetables.

Always keep raw meat, fish, and poultry separate from other ready-to-eat foods, like veggies and grains.  Use different cutting boards, knives, and other utensils when prepping raw foods. When you’re finished preparing one food, thoroughly wash everything including your hands, before moving on to the next.

It’s hard to tell if food is fully cooked by looking at it or touching it.  Studies have found that the best way to tell if your food is safe to eat is by checking the internal temperature.  Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food and avoid touching any bones, the pot, or the pan.  Check out this chart to find the safe cooking temperatures for different foods.  You can also purchase a thermometer with built-in meat temperatures.  And always use a clean plate and serving utensils for your cooked foods.

Keeping food at the right temperature after cooking is essential.  Hot foods should be held at 140 degrees or above and cold foods should be held at 41 degrees or below.  If the temperature goes below or above these parameters, it’s time to reheat to 165 degrees or cool down to below 41 degrees.  If you end up forgetting about it for over 2 hours on the counter top, it should be tossed.

Don’t worry about letting food sit out and “cool off” before putting away in the refrigerator.  The temperatures in the refrigerator or freezer will do the cooling for you.  Studies find that as long as the food is at 70 degrees or below, the refrigerator can do the rest of the cooling for you.  You do, however, want to place foods in smaller containers before putting it away. This will help cool it down even quicker.

It’s the holidays…there are ALWAYS leftovers!  Keep leftovers safe by reheating them to 165 degrees before eating.  If you’re using the microwave, remember to stir food occasionally while heating and then let it sit for two minutes before taking the temperature and serving.

And if you’re not sure if the food may have gone bad, remember the cardinal rule of food safety, when in doubt, throw it out.

Wishing you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season!

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