Holiday Food Safety Do’s and Don’ts
Aunt Alice can't help spreading her cold germs, but you can make sure you don't spread food poisoning
The highlights of your holiday feast may include prime rib, turkey, pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies. One thing you definitely don’t want on the menu: food poisoning.
But it could happen, especially when food sits out during long festive gatherings and gifts and guests distract otherwise conscientious cooks from safe food handling procedures. Take a minute to read these holiday food safety do’s and don’ts and keep you and your family feeling merry.
Related: 10 Common Food Safety Fails
Do keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers and ice trays to keep hot food above 140 degrees F and cold food below 40 degrees F, the USDA advises. Put leftovers in the fridge within two hours, and throw out any food left out longer than that. Defrost frozen food in the fridge or microwave, never on the counter, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Do wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
Don’t rinse the turkey. The Food Safety and Inspection Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends against washing poultry (or beef, pork, lamb or veal) before cooking it. Rinsing just spreads bacteria. And don’t stuff the turkey — it’s risky, according to the USDA. Even if the turkey itself has reached a safe minimum internal temperature, the stuffing may not have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria.
Do use separate cutting boards for meat and produce. Identify one cutting board for raw meat and a separate one for fresh produce to avoid contaminating your veggies with possible salmonella in the meat juices. Do the same with your knives. Wash plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher to clean and sanitize them, and wash wood ones with warm, soapy water, advises the USDA.
Don’t eat raw cookie dough. Your kids — or you — might be tempted to take a bite of that sugary dough, but it’s better to wait for the finished product to come out of the oven. Raw or undercooked eggs can carry salmonella. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning typically appear within 6 to 72 hours and include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills and headache.
Do use a food thermometer for the roast or turkey so you don’t serve undercooked meat. The minimum internal temperature depends on the type of meat, as outlined in this infographic from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
(Photo: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service )
Don’t drink unpasteurized eggnog. Pasteurization kills off bacteria — salmonella, listeria, E. coli 0157:H7 and campylobacter — that can lead to foodborne illnesses. While it’s possible to get a foodborne illness from many different foods, raw milk is one of the riskiest, according to the CDC. Egg products can be substituted in recipes typically made with raw eggs, such as eggnog or custard.
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