A popular way to celebrate holidays or any party occasion is to invite friends and family to a potluck dinner. However, this type of food service (where foods are left out for long periods) leave the door open for uninvited guests — bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Festive times for giving and sharing should not include sharing foodborne illness.
- Remember to wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Avoid bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. While it can’t be expected for each person who touches food to wear gloves, be sure to provide utensils or other barriers to prevent bare hand contact.
- Instead of passing up that delicious pumpkin roll each year, offer a spatula to go along with a knife rather than have guests lick their fingers after each slice!
- Store raw meats and produce apart from one another while in the refrigerator.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and fresh produce. Be sure to provide adequate utensils for all side dishes. Keep your eyes peeled for the double dipper. Nobody will try the buffalo chicken dip after a half-eaten soggy corn chip has been in the bowl multiple times!
- Before cooking begins, frozen foods must be properly thawed.
- Did you know that when thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator, you need to allow 24 hours for every five pounds of total weight?
- Cook poultry to 165°F, pork, steaks, roasts and fish to 145°F.
- Take internal temperatures with a probe style thermometer at the innermost median portion (for turkey the innermost part of the thigh, wing and breast should read 165° F). And, no, your index finger is not an approved method of checking internal temperatures — contrary to what my brother-in-law thinks (he is permanently banned from my kitchen)!
- Chill food quickly and keep the refrigerator at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit Foods should not be left out for more than two hours.
- Large amounts of food should be divided into smaller shallow pans to allow for quicker cooling.
- Increasing the exposed surface area of the food will help it to cool more rapidly.
- The goal for proper food cooling is to get the inner most temperature to less than 70oF within two hours and below 41oF within an additional four hours.
While safe food handling rules should always apply, precautions are necessary during the holidays to prevent foodborne illness from being an uninvited guest. Remember the holidays are a time for celebration, not salmonella!