Preparing or helping with a sumptuous family feast in the next few weeks? A great event usually doesn’t involve food borne illness! Here are some food safety tips to help ensure your holiday meals are prepared in a safe manner, from the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center:
- Never thaw food at room temperature. The outside of the food will be warm while the inside is still frozen, allowing disease-causing bacteria to grow. Thaw frozen food in a refrigerator at 41° F or below.
- Large items, like that turkey, can take significant time to thaw. Allow about 24 hours per five pounds of frozen food thawing in the refrigerator. So for example, a 20-pound turkey will thaw in a 41° refrigerator in about four days.
- Cook the stuffing separate from the turkey. Stuffing cooked inside a turkey may not reach the required 165° F to prevent illness.
- Every kitchen should have a metal stem thermometer, an inexpensive item available at the grocery store. Without a thermometer, how do you tell food is cooked to the proper temperature? Don’t guess.
- Speaking of temperature, poultry and stuffed foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165° F; meat and fish to at least 145° F; pork, ground meats and ground fish to at least 155° F.
- Avoid cross-contamination, the transfer of harmful microorganisms from one food to another. Contaminated hands, utensils or equipment can transfer microorganisms. A frequent cross-contamination is juice from raw poultry or meats being transferred to other foods. This can happen via the hands or by using a cutting board or knife on the raw poultry or meats, then on another food without washing hands/board/knife first.
- Cooks should wash their hands frequently during food preparation, not just after handling raw poultry and meats, but also after using the restroom, after handling soiled equipment or utensils, and after coughing and sneezing. Wash hands vigorously with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds – about the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- In addition to frequently washing the hands, also wash counters and cooking utensils as the meal is prepared.
- Once that great meal is over, refrigerate leftovers to 41° F or below within six hours.
Food borne illnesses can be serious enough to require hospitalization can be fatal. Follow safe food practices, and you can offer great meals that will be remembered for your expertise, not for a bad outcome!