Holiday food safety strategies
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., former Nutrition Sciences Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension
During the holiday season many people work overtime in the kitchen. Schedules get even more hectic, family and friends gather, and many people are in and out of the kitchen trying to lend a hand. It's no wonder food safety practices are likely to fall by the wayside when a crowd gathers. But many of our holiday guests are at greater risk for foodborne illness, namely the elderly, children, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system or chronic illness, such as heart disease, diabetes and HIV. No one wants to spoil a holiday celebration with foodborne illness. Keep your family and friends safe with the following food safety strategies:
- Check your refrigerator temperature. Use a thermometer to ensure
your refrigerator holds foods safely — between 36 and 40 degrees
F. Warmer temperatures allow harmful bacteria to thrive and foods
to spoil. If you’ll be cooking for a crowd and are short on refrigerator
space, fill a cooler or two with ice to handle extra items.
- Thaw frozen meat and poultry safely in your refrigerator or under
cold water in the sink. If you’re really pressed for time, microwave
thawing is fastest, but make sure you finish cooking immediately
after thawing. Defrosting any perishable food on the counter is dangerous
because bacteria can thrive in the outer portions of the food before
the inside thaws.
- Wash hands with warm soapy water before and after handling food,
as well as after using the toilet, diapering children, blowing your
nose, playing with pets, etc.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Keep raw meat and poultry and their
drippings separate from other foods. Wash counters, cutting boards
and knives before, during and after food preparation. Use paper towels
to wipe up meat and poultry drippings, as opposed to dish rags and
sponges which can soak up and spread bacteria throughout your kitchen.
- Roast your holiday turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees
F. Avoid short-cut cooking methods that call for cooking the bird
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure safety and quality. Your turkey
is cooked safely when the thermometer inserted into the inner thigh,
but not touching the bone or the breast, reads 165 degrees F and
turkey juices run clear. Cooking dressing in a separate casserole
dish is safest, but if you prefer to stuff your holiday bird, fill
the cavity loosely and make sure the center of the stuffing reaches
165 degrees F.
- Keep cold foods cold (below 40 degrees F) and hot foods hot (above
140 degrees). Use hot plates, chafing dishes and crock pots to keep
hot holiday buffet foods at a safe temperature. Keep cold foods chilled
by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Serve small quantities of perishable
foods such as meat, cheese and dips, and refill as needed.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of serving. Remove
turkey from the carcass and refrigerate in small, shallow, covered
containers that protect quality and allow for rapid cooling.
- Consume leftovers within a few days. Use your freezer for longer
storage. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F or until hot and steaming.
Bring leftover gravy to a rolling boil (165 degrees F) before serving.
- Clean up with a sanitizing solution of one teaspoon bleach added to one quart of water. Spray on washed counter tops, kitchen tables and refrigerator door handles, which are the dirtiest spot in a busy kitchen.
For more information on food safety visit: http://www.foodsafety.gov
Last update: Friday, December 21, 2012