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Food Safety and the Holidays

Food Safety and the Holidays

Don’t risk food-borne illnesses now or anytime of year. Take a few common-sense precautions.

By FamilyTime

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We tend to prepare more food with greater frequency during the holidays, and consequently may be at increased risk for spoilage. Regardless of the time of year, the same basic rules for keeping food safe apply. Don’t let cooler outdoor temperatures lull you into complacency.

Danger Zones

Bacteria grows most readily in temperatures between 41°F and 140°F. This 99-degree range is the danger zone for all perishable food and in particular meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, and fish. Even cooked foods should not be held in this range for longer than an hour.

Clearly, this translates to mean that food is safest when it’s chilled and when it’s hot. Remember this and you will have fewer questions about safety.

The Refrigerator

Store food in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. Return uncooked food to the refrigerator as soon as you can. Cover and stow cooked food in the refrigerator directly after the meal--do not let it sit on the table for more than 30 to 60 minutes.

Ground meat and poultry should be refrigerated until immediately before cooking. Larger cuts of meat and whole steaks and chops benefit from exposure to room temperature to promote even cooking. This should not exceed 15 to 20 minutes. 

Keep the refrigerator between 31°F and 41°F. and the freezer at 0°F. Accurate refrigerator and freezer thermometers are easily found in hardware stores, kitchen supply stores and supermarkets.

If you live in a region where it typically drops into the thirties, you can free up refrigerator space by keeping some food on back porches or in unheated garages. The best foods for this treatment are those that are not especially vulnerable to spoiling, such as root vegetables, condiments (in plastic containers), and beverages. Of course, this means you must keep an eye on the thermometer in case it freezes, which isn't good for these items.

Cross Contamination

Store raw foods on the bottom shelves of the refrigerator and cooked foods above them. This prevents raw meat and poultry juices from leaking into cooked food and contaminating it.

When working with raw food, take care any escaping juices do not spill onto the salad greens or other foods that will be served raw or only slightly cooked.

Wash all work surfaces with soap and hot water. Wash your hands before handling food and afterwards, too. This is particularly important when you work with raw poultry, meat, or fish.

Thorough Cooking

Cook food to safe temperatures to kill bacteria such as salmonella and e-coli. Use an instant-read thermometer to determine the internal temperature, which for most meat and fish is 155°F to 160°F., although poultry should be cooked to 170°F. for white meat and 180°F. for dark meat. If you prefer beef medium rare, the internal temperature will be about 140°F.

Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat or fish, taking care it does not touch the bone. Because of its natural configuration, some food is uneven and so take care that it cooks as evenly as possible.Watch it carefully, move the pan around in the oven and tent fast-cooking portions with foil as needed.

Some harmful spores are heat resistant and not killed during cooking, which is why it is so important to refrigerate food until shortly before cooking. 

Overall, our food supply is safe and so if you handle food sensibly and cautiously, your holiday food will be joyously delicious and problem-free.

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