Holiday Food Safety Tips

These tips are from NSF International (a nonprofit organization that is committed to protecting public health and safety by developing standards and certifying products against those standards).

At the store…

Shop inside to outside. Most grocery stores have their nonperishable products in the center of the store and their perishable products around the outside perimeter.

o Tip: When shopping, go to the center and get your nonperishable items first, such as canned and dry goods, and then gather your refrigerated, frozen foods and hot deli items last – right before checkout. This will ensure that hot foods stay hot and that frozen items stay cold, even in your vehicle trunk on the way home.

In the kitchen…

Start with a clean kitchen. The holidays usually mean more cooks in the kitchen, increasing the risk for cross contamination. According to a recent NSF germ study, the kitchen is the germiest place in most homes, especially the kitchen sponge and sink area — items that are typically used in multiple stages of the cooking and cleaning process.

o Tip: Avoid spreading germs and bacteria by placing wet sponges in the microwave for two minutes at least once per day — and especially after coming into contact with raw meat, poultry or fish juices or dirt from produce — and replace often. Using towels and rags that can be sanitized in the clothes washer’s hot water cycle is a good alternative to sponges.

o Tip: Disinfect the sides and bottom of your kitchen sink regularly (1–2 times per week) and after any food prep activities where raw meat, poultry or fish juices or dirt from produce may have touched the sink surface.

Don’t attempt to thaw frozen food (even a turkey) by leaving it sit overnight on a kitchen counter. Use one of the following methods instead:

o Tip I: Refrigerator Method (allow 4-5 hours per pound). Keep the meat in its original wrapper and place in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. Plan to cook the meat within 1 to 2 days of thawing when using this method.

o Tip II: Cold Water Thawing (allow about 30 minutes per pound). Place the meat in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge the wrapped meat in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the meat is thawed. Cook the meat immediately after it has thawed.

o Tip III: Microwave Thawing (check your owner’s manual for maximum size meat you can thaw, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing). Remove all outside wrapping and place the meat on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Any meat thawed in a microwave must be cooked immediately.

Don’t wash your meats. There’s no need to wash meats before cooking. If you do so, bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill bacteria.

o Tip: If you choose to brine meat, don’t rinse the meat item after soaking. Rather, remove the meat item from the brine water, place on a platter and brush any excess salt or other seasonings off the meat. If disposing of the used brine water down the kitchen drain, be sure to immediately clean and disinfect the sink and any other nearby surfaces that may have come into contact with the used brine or raw meat juices.

Avoid cross contamination: In the excitement of cooking a large meal, bacteria can easily spread between foods if proper food handling procedures aren’t followed. 

o Tip: Use color coded cutting boards to distinguish between surfaces used for raw meats and vegetables. After using utensils that have come in contact with raw meat, wash them in hot soapy water or put them directly into the dishwasher.

o Tip: Wash your hands frequently, especially after handling uncooked meats or when switching from one food type to the next.

 Don’t stuff your meats. As mishandled or undercooked stuffing can lead to foodborne illness, consider cooking your stuffing separately in a casserole dish to help ensure meats and vegetables are thoroughly cooked.

o Tip: If you choose to stuff meat, wait to do so until right before putting your meat in the oven. Use only pre-cooked meats and vegetables in the stuffing mixture and cook the stuffing until it reaches at least 165° F. Do not stuff whole poultry with cooked stuffing.

Serving food . . . .

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Since bacteria grow the quickest when temperatures are between 40º F and 140º F, keep perishable foods refrigerated or iced down until just before serving, and keep hot foods above 140º F once fully cooked.
o Tip: Cover dishes with lids or foil to help keep food warm longer. If serving a buffet, use chafing dishes or slow cookers to help keep hot foods hot, and nestle cold foods in ice beds to help keep them cool.

When guests are late . . .                             

If guests are scheduled to arrive within the hour, hot food can usually be held safely in the oven.

o Tip: To prevent food from drying out, cover the dishes or wrap with aluminum foil. Cold foods should be kept refrigerated until just before serving.

 If guests are delayed for more than an hour, hot foods may dry out if kept in a warm oven for more than an hour.

o Tip: Separate the food in shallow containers and store in the refrigerator. When the guests arrive, reheat the food to an internal temperature of 165° F. Cold foods should be kept refrigerated until just before serving.

 When storing leftovers . . . .

Refrigerate leftovers before serving dessert. Bacteria can grow on foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours.

o Tip: Before you sit down to enjoy dessert, put all leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.

It isn’t necessary to cool food before refrigerating it. Food should be placed into the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible to discourage bacteria growth.

o Tip: Separate large quantities of food into several loosely covered shallow containers to speed cooling.  Once cooled, cover the leftovers


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