To avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses, public health agencies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are encouraging consumers to take appropriate precautions in handling, preparing and cooking foods during the upcoming holiday season.
To ensure that holiday foods are safe, officials recommend following these basic safety steps:
- Clean: Wash your hand and surfaces when you begin and whenever you change tasks. Bacteria and other organisms can spread from contaminated hands and other surfaces throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and counter tops.
- Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Don’t let bacteria spread from one food product to another. Wash hands, cutting boards and utensils after they come into contact with raw meats, poultry or eggs.
- Cook: Cook to proper temperatures and maintain the proper temperature for at least 15 seconds. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Proper cooking temperatures of some foods include:
- Fish and beef steaks – 145 degrees or higher
- Ground meat – 155 degrees or higher
- Poultry (turkey) and stuffed food items – 165 degrees or higher
- Chill: Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Cool foods uncovered and in smaller portions to lower the temperature quickly. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees and the freezer at zero degrees and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer. Discard food that has been in the refrigerator for more than seven days. When in doubt, throw it out.
Other recommendations include:
- Uncooked items: FDA advises consumers not to eat uncooked cookie dough, homemade or commercial, or batters made with raw fresh eggs. Fresh eggs may contain bacteria that can cause an intestinal infection called Salmonellosis.
- Eggnog: Traditional eggnog made with raw eggs also presents the same risk to consumers — Salmonellosis. Eggnog purchased at the store has likely been pasteurized meaning the egg-and-milk combination has been heat-treated to kill most of the harmful microorganisms that could cause illness.
- Turkey: To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, a turkey must be completely thawed in a refrigerator before cooking. If a turkey is not properly thawed, it will cook unevenly and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria. Do not thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter or in the sink and allow time to properly thaw and cook a whole turkey. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
Cook a turkey at 325 degrees. A 18-22-pound turkey (without stuffing) takes 3½ to 4 hours to cook. With stuffing, allow 3¾ to 4½ hours to cook. To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the turkey. A turkey is done when the temperature (using a meat thermometer) is 180° F in thigh and 165° F or higher in breast or stuffing.
- Holiday Buffets: The temperature danger zone between 40 to 140 degrees is optimal for rapid bacteria growth. Foods should be discarded if they are in this temperature danger zone for more than four hours. When serving food buffet-style, use warming trays, chafing dishes or crock pots to keep hot foods hot. Keep cold foods cold by putting serving trays on crushed ice.
- Food Allergies: The number of people diagnosed with food allergies has increased over the years. The most common food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (cashews, pecans and walnuts), shellfish (lobster, shrimp and crabs), fish (salmon and halibut), soy and wheat.