The Christmas season is here, and many will be gathering around the dinner table enjoying their favorite holiday meals.
The Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center wants to make sure families keep food safety tips in mind when preparing those holiday meals.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates each year about 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases,” said Peter Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist. “While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, food safety during the holidays is a must in order to prevent bacteria from growing and causing illness.”
Muriana suggests the following food safety tips to ensure holiday meals are not only delicious, but also safe.
- Shop for holiday foods safely. Buy your meat preferably 1 to 2 days before you cook it, and keep the meat separated from the fresh produce in the shopping cart and when bagging. Extra caution should be used when buying fresh, stuffed turkeys because of the potential for bacteria growth in the stuffing. Pick up the meat, dairy, eggnog and eggs just before checking out.
- Develop a master plan.Take into consideration your refrigerator, freezer and oven space to keep hot foods at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you use coolers, make sure you have plenty of clean ice and check it frequently to make sure the ice has not melted.
- Wash hands often.Wash hands before, during and after food preparation to minimize bacterial contamination. Wash with hot water and soap up to your wrists and between your fingers for approximately 20 seconds.
- Separate to avoid cross contamination.Use two cutting boards: one for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish, and the other for cutting fruits and vegetables, cooked food or preparing salads.
- Wash all fresh produce.Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Even wash prepackaged greens to minimize bacterial contamination.
- Thaw frozen meats safely.Defrost meats in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours, depending on size, or submerge meat in its original package in the sink or in a pan of enough cold water to cover the meat. Allow 30 minutes thawing time for every pound.
- Cook to proper temperature.Use a thermometer to make sure food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. Turkey, stuffing, side dishes and all leftovers should be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep guests out of the kitchen.Holidays occur during cold and flu season, and preventing guests from sampling the food while it is being prepared limits the amount of germs getting on the food. Serve appetizers to give guests something to nibble on until the meal is ready.
- Refrigerate leftovers.Leftovers should be divided into smaller portions, stored in several shallow containers and refrigerated within two hours after cooking. Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. If large amounts are left, consider freezing leftovers for later use.
- Eating leftovers.Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout or until steaming hot. Soups, sauces and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. Never taste leftover food that looks or smells strange. When in doubt, throw it out.
The holidays are usually a time for feasting with family and friends; however, because of the pandemic, this year might look and feel different. FAPC recommends referring to CDC’s considerations for hosting holiday celebrations to protect family, friends and communities from COVID-19.
FAPC, a part of the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.