Whether or not you get festive about celebrating winter holidays, many of us will be enjoying more food than usual this time of year. If your friends and family are anything like mine, your main gatherings center around grabbing coffee, a bite out to eat at a local favorite or going to a relative's home to share a meal. Because of this, we need to be careful when it comes to protecting ourselves from food-borne illness. Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD suggests you take the following precautions with food prep and leftovers.
1. Have a master plan. Chefs do it, and so should you. Consider your refrigerator, freezer and oven space, and how you'll manage to keep hot foods at 140 degrees or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees or below.
2. Cook to proper temperature -- and use a thermometer. There is simply no other way to determine that food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. Turkeys, stuffing, side dishes, and all leftovers should be cooked to at least 165 degrees and kept above 140 degrees during serving to be sure that any potential bacteria is destroyed, says Karen Blakeslee, MS, of the Kansas State University Food Science Institute. Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
3. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. It is so easy to linger around the table, but when food sits outs for more than two hours in the danger zone -- above 40 degrees and below 140 degrees -- it is prime for bacterial growth.
4. Wash your hands thoroughly and often -- before, during, and after food preparation. Wash with hot water and soap, up to your wrists and between your fingers, for approximately 20 seconds.
5. Wash all fresh produce. Wash even prepackaged greens, to minimize potential bacterial contamination. Make sure kitchen counters, sponges, cutting boards, and knives are all well scrubbed. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
6. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees. Filling a plate of food and popping it into the microwave for a few minutes may seem safe enough. But, says Cody, you really need to use a thermometer to make sure all the food is reheated enough to kill bacteria. Microwaves heat in an uneven manner, so let the covered food sit for a minute or two to let the heat destroy any bugs, then check the temperature all around the plate.
7. Keep guests (and sticky fingers) out of the kitchen. Holidays occur during cold and flu season, which further compounds the fact that about half of all people have staph aureus bacteria on their fingertips. So it is important to prevent anyone from picking at the food while it is being prepared, serving simple appetizers to give guest something to nibble on until the meal is ready.
8. Serve only pasteurized apple cider. Most juices, including apple cider, are pasteurized to destroy any harmful bacteria. While you can buy unpasteurized juice, it will contain a warning that it can cause serious illness in vulnerable people.
This information is useful all year long! Many of us grab food from the Fen's or Bartol and should take these steps to ensure our safety.
For more safety tips and fun information, visit the FDA's website for more information.