The holiday season is a great time for entertaining family and friends. Just make sure that foodborne illness doesn’t crash your party. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that 1 in 6 Americans experience foodborne illness each year. Personally, I don’t like those odds, so I try to do everything I can to prevent it from happening. The United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and the Partnership for Food Safety Education have great tips for helping us keep our food safe. I’ve summarized a few of them below:
1. If it touches your food, make sure it is clean. This includes countertops, dishes, utensils, and cutting boards. And please, don’t forget to wash your hands! Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before, during, and after food preparation. Hand washing is especially important because it also helps prevent the spread of other illnesses.
2. Thaw frozen food safely. The best (and safest) way to thaw frozen food is by putting them in the refrigerator. Of course this takes some planning since it can take a day or more for some foods to thaw. If you get in a bind, you can thaw food in the microwave or under cool running water. However, if you use either of these methods, the food must be cooked right away.
3. Rinse all fresh produce under cool, running water before peeling, cutting or eating. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables such as melons or potatoes with a vegetable brush. Bagged salads and leafy greens that are labeled pre-washed and ready-to-eat don’t have to be washed again. You can wash them if you want, just make sure that you handle them safely so they aren’t contaminated with bacteria (see tip #1).
4. Don’t spread germs from one food to another. Keep raw meat, poultry or seafood on a platter on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator. This helps prevent their juices from dripping on raw fruits, vegetables, or other foods that won’t be cooked. Don’t put cooked foods on a dirty plate that previously held raw eggs, meat, or poultry. If you do, you may have reintroduced bacteria to the cooked food (again, see tip #1). Also, consider using a designated cutting board for produce and another one for meat, poultry and seafood.
5. Cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Cooking kills harmful bacteria that may be on food. The only way to tell if a food has been cooked long enough (from a food safety perspective) is to use a food thermometer. Last year, the USDA lowered the recommended temperature for cooking whole cuts of pork from 160°F to 145°F. However, they added a 3 minute rest time before eating. Poultry (whole or ground), should be cooked to 165°F. Ground meat (beef, lamb, or pork) and egg dishes should be cooked to 160°F. Whole cuts of beef, lamb and veal should be cooked to a minimum of 145°F (with a 3-minute rest time).
6. Remember the 2-hour rule for perishable foods or leftovers. Store cooked foods (including takeout) within 2 hours to prevent bacteria from growing. Foods left out for more than 2 hours should be thrown away.
7. Leftovers don’t last forever in the refrigerator: Most cooked foods can be stored in the refrigerated for 3 to 4 days. After that, they should be thrown out. This assumes, however, that your refrigerator is kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or cooler. Is it?
8. Take special care with holiday favorites: No matter how tempting, resist the urge to eat uncooked cookie dough made with raw eggs. If you make your own eggnog, use pasteurized shell eggs or liquid pasteurized eggs.
Remember, nobody wants to be sick – especially during the holidays. Following these guidelines can help keep your food safe, not only during the holidays, but throughout the year as well. For more information on food safety, visit the websites below: