The holiday season is almost here, and for many of us, that means celebrating with our family and friends…and food! Practicing food safety in your kitchen while preparing holiday meals is a must to keep the holidays happy for everyone. Keep reading to reveal 10 food safety tips you should keep in mind while prepping for this season’s celebrations.
Steritech, Ehrlich’s sister company, has been providing food safety assessments and advice to leading food businesses for over 20 years. To keep your feast both delicious and safe, use this infographic and tips from Steritech’s experts.
Turkey thawing takes time
The safest way to thaw your turkey involves using your refrigerator. Be sure to plan ahead because safe thawing takes time! For every five pounds of frozen turkey, allow 24 hours of thawing time. For example, if you are preparing a 15-pound turkey, you’re going to need three days to safely thaw it.
Place the turkey in a tray or container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. The tray or container should be deep enough to collect any draining fluids to prevent contamination of other foods in your refrigerator. Use caution not to spill the contents when removing it from the refrigerator.
You may be wondering why you can’t just thaw your turkey by sitting it on the counter. Doing so creates the perfect opportunity for bacteria growth. When you leave an item out on a counter to thaw, the outside layers become warm much faster than the inside layers. That temperature change allows bacteria on the turkey to grow, and that bacteria can make people sick.
Safe temperatures for cooking your holiday meat
A thoroughly cooked turkey should be roasted at a temperature of 325° F (163° C) or higher.
Before removing your bird from the oven, you should ensure that the internal temperature of the turkey is at least 165° F (74° C) by using a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into several different spots, including the thigh (the thickest part of the turkey), to ensure all parts of the bird have reached this temperature. Avoid touching the bone with the thermometer, as this could give an inaccurate temperature reading.
Turkeys are not the only proteins that have recommended internal temperatures to ensure they are cooked thoroughly. Remember, you can’t tell if meat is safely cooked simply by looking at it. Insert a meat thermometer at the densest part of the food and check for the following temperatures:
- Turkey/Poultry – 165°F (74°C)
- Beef Roast – 145°F (63°C)
- Fresh Ham – 160°F (71°C)
- Fully-cooked Ham – 140°F (60°C)
Is stuffing dangerous?
The topic of stuffing is a surprisingly polarized one. Its very name suggests cooking it inside the turkey, and many people prepare it this way. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advises consumers to cook stuffing in a separate dish for food safety purposes. Cooking stuffing inside the bird makes it vulnerable to dangerous bacteria that may be naturally present on the turkey, such as Salmonella. If it doesn’t get cooked properly, that stuffing can become a vehicle for foodborne illness.
If you maintain that stuffing MUST be cooked inside the turkey, at least be sure to be cognizant of temperature. Use a clean and sanitized meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing before removing your turkey from the oven. A reading from the center of the stuffing should be at least 165° F (74° C).
Cross-contamination can easily take place in the hustle and bustle of holiday food preparation. It occurs when bacteria from one food product or surface transfers to an uncontaminated food product or surface. Your best chance at avoiding it is by thoroughly cleaning kitchen counters, cutting boards, utensils and your hands in between tasks. For example, if you’ve just cut meat or poultry with a knife, it is very important that the knife, cutting boards and any surfaces that the meat or poultry touched get properly washed and sanitized before proceeding to other tasks. You may even consider using separate cutting boards and preparation areas for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods, such as produce. If possible, perform these tasks at separate times to avoid cross-contamination.
Beware of allergies
Depending on their severity, food allergies can be life-threatening. It is especially important to be allergy aware when preparing food for a large group of people. Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies and take them into consideration in your planning. If possible, avoid using those foods at all in the kitchen. If not, take precautions to protect other foods from cross-contamination with allergens. Don’t use the same utensils, mixing bowls, etc., for foods with and without allergens without thoroughly washing and sanitizing those tools first. If you are using prepared mixes for any foods, remember to read the label thoroughly.
The most common food allergens are:
- Tree nuts
Wash all produce
Though often overlooked, produce is rising as a top food group associated with foodborne illness outbreaks. Though you can’t tell if produce is contaminated just by looking at it, there are ways you can reduce the chances of transmitting foodborne illness. Be sure to wash all produce first, even packaged produce that indicates it has been pre-washed.
Though important to do, washing produce doesn’t always completely prevent foodborne illness. Because cooking is required to kill many bacteria, raw produce (salads, fresh veggie trays, etc.) can still carry bacteria. Additionally, cutting through produce, like melons, can also transfer bacteria from the surface into the flesh. To best avoid foodborne illness from produce, be aware of any produce recalls or foodborne illness outbreaks as you shop.
Seasonal beverages…even drinks have dangers
Often, holiday celebrations include special beverages only available at this time of year. Said beverages often include products that can come pasteurized or unpasteurized. Unpasteurized products carry with them a food safety risk, as pasteurization kills pathogens that are present in foods or that develop in processing. Purchase eggnog, apple cider, and other seasonal beverages labeled PASTEURIZED to avoid potentially harmful pathogens.
Say “no” to dough and batter
You’d probably be hardpressed to find someone who hasn’t licked a beater or spatula covered in batter. But unfortunately, it’s best to avoid the temptation of taste-testing the dough and batter of sweet treats, such as cookies, pies, and cakes. We’ve long been warned that uncooked eggs in batter contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, but now new advice from regulatory agencies suggests that uncooked flour can also harbor pathogens, such as E. coli. When it comes to sweets, stick to the cooked ones.
The food safety rules for leftovers
Once we wake up from our food coma, many of us head to the refrigerator for that next-day turkey sandwich – but leftovers have their own set of food safety rules.
Proper cooling and storing is essential when it comes to leftovers. Leftovers must be cooled to below 70°F (21° C) within 2 hours, and then to 41°F (5° C) or below within an additional four hours.
If you have a lot left over, break large and thick foods into smaller portions when putting it away. Using smaller, shallow containers allows for quicker cooling. Avoid tightly covering containers until food is fully cooled.
When reheating, make sure that the food reaches a temperature of 165°F (74° C), and reheat the food only once.
Need a break from holiday food? If you won’t eat the leftovers in three to four days, freeze them.
Lastly, if you’re traveling with foods, it’s important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. By allowing foods to enter the temperature danger zone, bacteria and other pathogens can grow and eventually make people sick. Use insulated carriers to help you keep foods from going out of temperature range.
From all of us at Ehrlich, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.