One of the biggest highlights of the holiday season is sharing a meal with family and friends. Whether you are hosting the feast or bringing a dish to a pot luck party, food safety is important to keep in mind this holiday season. Unsafe food handling can cause food poisoning, which can put some of your holiday guests at risk. Older adults, pregnant women, young children and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.
Avoid putting yourself and your guests at risk by practicing these safe food handling tips.
At the Grocery Store
• Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from the other food in your cart.
• Do not buy any canned goods that are dented or bulging as they can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
• Buy your cold foods last to limit their time at room temperature.
• When bagging your groceries keep raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate bag. Make sure to keep these groceries separated in your refrigerator as well. You don’t want your poultry juices leaking onto your vegetables or fruits. Yuck!
• Refrigerate your cold foods within two hours.
In the Kitchen
• Start by making sure you have all the equipment you need, including two cutting boards (so one can be used for raw meats and one for ready to eat foods), a food thermometer and shallow containers for storing leftovers.
• Always start your food prep with clean hands. Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before handling food. Ensure that all surfaces that come in contact with food -- from the counter to the knife -- are clean as well. This helps to prevent cross contamination.
• Never defrost food on the counter. The safest way is to let food defrost in the refrigerator.
• Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your dishes. Beef roasts, pork, veal, fish and lamb should be cooked to 145°F. Ground meats, including beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160°F. Eggs should also be cooked to 160°F. All poultry should be cooked to 165°F.
For the Love of Leftovers
• Throw away all perishable food that has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
• Store leftovers in shallow containers; this allows for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
• Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days and frozen for three to four months.
• When reheating leftovers make sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Bottom line: Follow these kitchen safety steps and you’ll have a safe and tasty holiday meal and be able to enjoy the leftovers.
Written by: Laura Dutra, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern