The holidays are surrounded by food! They are full of fun, laughter, memories but they are also a prime time to remember best practices for keeping our food safe to eat. Let’s talk about a few holiday food safety tips and cover 4 steps to preventing food poisoning as well as how to properly store leftovers. Because leftovers are some of the best parts of the holiday season, right?
4 Steps to Preventing Food Poisoning: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill
To prevent the spread of germs it’s important to wash your hands before you get started. You’ll also want to wash your hands during other key moments like in between handling raw meats, after touching garbage, after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing and after touching a pet.
Clean hands and clean surfaces are important as well. Make sure surfaces and utensils are clean prior to using them. Wash with hot soapy water and don’t forget to frequently switch out and wash dish towels.
Should you wash meat?
A lot of people grew up where washing the meat before cooking it is a must! Not that I want to challenge this age old tradition and change your mind, but I would like to share what the USDA says about washing meats.
The USDA states that washing raw meats and poultry can cause cross contamination by spreading bacteria to other foods, utensils and surfaces. The thought behind this is that if bacteria splashes on the kitchen countertop and you don’t properly clean and sanitize it then it can promote food borne illnesses. Usually we wash meat to rinse away slime, dirt, fat or blood. They believe this was most appropriate when people used to slaughter their own meat. In today’s meat system the meat is cleaned during processing. It is not recommended to use soap or detergents. The USDA has found that the most effective way to prevent illness is to cook foods to the proper temperature. We’ll review food temps below.
While they may not recommend washing meats it is still highly recommended to wash your hands after touching raw meat. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Pro-tip: it is believed that rinsing salt pork, bacon or country ham will reduce the sodium in the meat. In actuality very little sodium is removed and so rinsing these foods are not recommended.
How to disinfect surfaces?
Sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces is best to do after we’ve cleaned them. It’s important to use products that are safe to use in the kitchen. A homemade solution that you can use for utensils, cutting boards, is to mix 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach with a gallon of water. Use the solution to soak utensils and cutting boards for a few minutes. Rinse them in clean water, then let them air dry.
Use separate cutting boards, utensils and plates for poultry, meats, seafood and eggs to prevent the spread of bacteria. Keep raw meat away from fresh produce. You’ll want to separate raw meat from cooked meat, paying special attention to not put cooked meat back on the same surface that raw meat and poultry were on.
Keeping foods separate is something we also want to keep in mind when grocery shopping. Place raw meats in a plastic bag. When your food is being bagged make sure raw meats, poultry and seafood are placed in different bags from all your other foods.
Although we may not think about it when we are cooking it’s important to make sure foods are cooked to the proper temperature. Especially meats, poultry and seafood. Cooking food to the proper temperature makes sure that germs that can make us sick are killed off. Here’s a quick temperature guide:
- Beef, bison, veal, goat, lamb (steaks, chops or roasts) – 145F with a 3 minute rest time
- Ground beef, bison, veal, goat, lamb – 160F
- Casseroles (with or without meat) – 165F
- Chicken, turkey (all parts of the bird including stuffing inside the bird) – 165F
- Raw ham – 145F with a rest time of 3 minutes
- Precooked ham – 165F
You might notice that some of the meats have rest times next to them. Rest times make sure that the inner parts of the meats and juices are fully cooked.
Can I eat raw cookie dough and batters?
I know how tempting it is to swipe the batter from inside your mixing bowl to have a taste, but doing so can actually make you sick. Flour and eggs can have germs like E. Coli and Salmonella that can make you sick. So next time you feel the urge to eat raw dough, skip it. There are some companies that sell edible cookie dough, but you’ll need to carefully read the label to make sure.
Bacteria that cause food poisoning thrive in environments where the temperature is between 40F- 140F. We call this the temperature danger zone. Perishable foods should be put in the refrigerator within 2 hours to stay out of the danger zone. If you live in hotter climates where the food is outside and the temperature is above 90F then you’ll want to refrigerate foods within 1 hour.
Other things to keep in mind is every so often checking the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The fridge temperature should be 40F or below. The freezer temperature should be at 0F or below.
Properly storing leftovers
Quickly cool hot food
Rapidly cooling hot food helps us to quickly get it back to safe temperature in the refrigerator. Examples of this include dividing large pots, such as soup, into smaller containers so it cools down quicker. This also includes cutting up large cuts of meat so it cools faster. It is safe to immediately put hot food in the fridge.
Store leftovers properly
Leftovers should be stored in airtight containers. This helps to keep bacteria out of the food and it keeps it from picking up other odors in the fridge. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
How long should food be left out?
When serving cold food, place them in bowls surrounded by ice. You can also use smaller portions on serving trays and switch them out often. Leftovers should be thrown out after they have been sitting out for 2 or more hours.
Keep hot food hot by using chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays. Doing this helps to keep your food safe to eat. When hot food is not in one of these appliances and it is just sitting out, it’s recommended to throw it out after 2 hours.