Keep food safe for holidays
Published 4:54 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2007
You are about to pull off a miracle, balancing your fulltime job with all the demands of holiday entertaining - or so it seems.
You've carefully laid all the plans for a lavish holiday party for out-of-town family and guests, replete with all of those things that make the holidays so special - baked turkey, ham and finger foods.
Congratulations. But before you get too carried away commending yourself on this awesome feat, answer this question: Have you taken adequate precautions against foodborne illness?
Millions of Americans, in their haste to keep pace with all the demands of the holiday season, are likely to overlook basic hygienic practices around the kitchen.
The fact that only one drop of juice from a contaminated turkey or chicken is enough to cause food poisoning is a strong incentive to follow these practices carefully, said Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food scientist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and foods.
Following are what Weese describes as the four basics of holiday food preparation:
Wash Your Hands
Mom's constant admonishment to wash your hands is the cornerstone of safe food handling and preparation. Hands should be washed a full 20 seconds before and after handling raw products.
Kitchen sinks should be used only for hand washing associated with food preparation.
Hand washing related to other household chores, such as gardening, should be confined to bathroom sinks.
Bar soaps should be kept clean and left on a soap dish that allows water to drain. Otherwise, the soap is liable to become contaminated with germs like any other kitchen item. Pump-action liquid soap dispensers provide strong protection against contamination.
Cross-contamination occurs when germs from one food are passed to another. This most often occurs when raw meat, poultry or seafood touch uncooked foods such as salads and fruits. Cross-contamination also can occur when these foods come in contact with unwashed hands, utensils or countertops that have previously been used with raw meat products. This is why raw meat products should be stored on a plate or tray to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
Cutting boards for raw meat products should not be used for salads and other uncooked foods unless they have first been thoroughly sanitized. As an added precaution, finish preparing raw meat products and return them to the refrigerator or place them in the oven. Then, clean and sanitize your kitchen before starting work on other foods.
Dirty sponges, dishcloths and towels are breeding grounds for legions of harmful pathogens. Always use paper towels or freshly cleaned cloths with soap and hot water to wipe kitchen surfaces.
The first rule of thumb when cooking a turkey is to allow sufficient time - up to four days, in some cases - for it to defrost in the refrigerator. Be sure to place the bird on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to ensure none of the drippings come in contact with other foods while it defrosts.
The bird should be cooked within a day of defrosting. Before cooking, insert a meat thermometer into the turkey's inner thigh closest to the breast to monitor its internal temperature. Whole turkeys should reach an internal temperature of between 160 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
Stuffing typically should be cooked separately from the turkey in a casserole dish. If you insist on cooking it in your turkey, call your local Extension agent for advice about how to do this safely.
Never use recipes that call for raw eggs. All egg dishes should be cooked until they reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
During microwaving, make sure there are no cold spots in foods. For best results, cover, stir and rotate food for even cooking.
Sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a boil before serving.
When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before carving. Leftovers should be heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
Cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing, dressing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey, dressing and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until hot and steaming.
Follow the Two-Hour Rule
Potluck dinners are especially popular during the holidays, but they are fraught with risk if the food is left out for more than a couple of hours. All perishables should be returned to the refrigerator after two hours. Be sure to divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Also, avoid stuffing the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate for the food to remain safe.
As an added precaution, make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and zero degrees Fahrenheit or below in the freezer.
Occasionally verify these temperatures with an appliance thermometer.
(Source: Dr. Jean Weese, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Food Scientist and Auburn University Associate Professor of Nutrition and Foods, 334-844-3269; Writer: Jim Langcuster, Extension Communications Specialist, 334-844-5686.)