Holiday food safety tips
As the holidays approach, many celebrations will include special foods--from traditional meals and beverages to elaborate desserts, dips and appetizers. Food takes center stage this time of year and, as a reminder, safe food preparation should also be given top priority.
To avoid the risk of food borne illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages consumers to take appropriate precautions in handling, preparing and cooking foods during the upcoming holiday season. Although food borne disease outbreaks are not common during this time of year (the highest occurrences are during the summer months), people should be mindful of the potential risks.
To ensure that the holiday foods are not only delicious but also safe, follow these basic safety steps:
¥ Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops.
¥ Don't cross-contaminate. Don't let bacteria spread from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Experts caution to keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. For example, store lettuce and lunch meats away from raw meats.
¥ Cook to proper temperatures. 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 food borne illness. Proper cooking temperatures of some foods include: fish steaks and beef steaks, 1450F; ground meat, 1550F; poultry and stuffed food items, 1650F (or higher).
¥ Refrigerate promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 400F, the freezer at 00F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.
Other recommendations include:
¥ Baked goods--FDA advises consumers not to eat uncooked cookie dough, homemade or commercial, or batters made with raw fresh eggs because raw fresh eggs may contain bacteria that can cause an intestinal infection called salmonellosis. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria that cause the infection.
¥ Eggnog --Traditional eggnog made with raw eggs also presents the same risk to consumers, salmonellosis. While cooking can destroy the disease-causing bacteria, consumers can still become ill when the eggnog is left at room temperature for several hours before being consumed. Safe alternatives are pasteurized eggnog beverages sold in grocery dairy cases. These products should be kept refrigerated.
¥ Turkey--Thawing the turkey completely before cooking is important and necessary to reduce the risk of food borne illness. If a turkey is not properly thawed, the outside of the turkey will be done before the inside, and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria.
Allow the correct amount of 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 at a temperature of no more than 400F. Do not thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter or in the sink.
Many variables can affect the cooking time of a turkey. To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the turkey but not touching bone. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 1800F. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 1650F.
¥ Oysters and seafood--Buy only fresh seafood that is refrigerated or properly iced. People with liver disorders or weakened immune systems have an increased risk of becoming ill if they consume raw oysters or shellfish.
¥ Mail order food gifts--Consumers should be careful with mail-order food gifts which can include meat, poultry, fish and other perishables like cheese, fruit and cheesecake. The gift giver should alert the recipient to the pending arrival of the food gift. The recipient should open the package immediately to make sure that, if it is labeled "keep refrigerated," the food arrives in a chilled state.
Following these guidelines can help to make the holidays more enjoyable for all. For information about food safety, visit http://www.fda.gov or call the Coconino County Health Department at 928-522-7800 or toll-free 1-877-522-7800.