Holiday Food Safety

Holiday Food Safety

Here come the holidays! Are you ready? Read on for important information on how to ensure that you serve safe and delicious food this holiday season.

Do not cross-contaminate
Cross-contamination occurs when the bacteria from one food product is spread to other food products. To prevent cross-contamination:

  • Prepare raw meat and poultry in separate areas from produce or cooked and ready-to-eat foods
  • Make sure you do not mix up your preparation equipment, such as using the same spoon to stir the pie filling and another dish
  • Clean and sanitize all counters, equipment, and utensils right away
  • Once you have used a towel to wipe up a food spill, you should not reuse it for any other purpose—put it in the laundry
  • Wash your hands thoroughly in between tasks

Store and thaw your food the right way

Follow these storage and freezing tips:

  • Do not buy a fresh turkey more than 2 days in advance of when you want to use it—this applies to all poultry
  • Keep a frozen turkey in its original wrapping, and thaw it in the refrigerator:
    • Figure that it will take 24 hours to thaw every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey
    • Keep thawed turkey in the refrigerator for up to 2 days
  • Thaw a frozen turkey by submerging it in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes (good method if you do not have enough time to thaw in refrigerator):
    • Allow 30 minutes to defrost for 1 pound of turkey when using this method
    • Cook the bird immediately after thawing when using this method
  • Use the microwave to thaw small turkeys:
    • Refer to your instruction manual to determine how many minutes it will take to thaw based on pounds and which power level you use
    • Cook any food thawed in the microwave immediately
  • Adhere to “use-by” dates on the packaging of fully cooked hams
  • Store uncooked hams in the refrigerator for up to 7 days
  • Never thaw meat or poultry at room temperature

Know how to stuff your turkey

It is still OK to stuff your turkey, although many people have stopped doing so in recent years. The trick is to stuff loosely, rather than packing it.

Following this advice:

  • Mix your stuffing right before placing it in the turkey
  • Make sure your stuffing is moist
  • Cook the turkey immediately after stuffing
  • Consider preparing your stuffing in a separate casserole dish
  • Do not remove stuffing once the turkey is cooked—let the bird stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey

Check those temperatures

It is important to use a thermometer to assure that the proper temperatures are reached:

  • Heat a whole turkey or game birds to 165° F throughout
  • Heat the stuffing to 165° F, whether you choose to cook it inside the bird or in a separate dish
  • Cook lamb to 145° F for medium rare, 160° F for medium, and 170° F for well done
  • Cook fresh pork to 145° F, including cook-before-eating ham
  • Heat fully cooked hams to 140° F
  • Cook venison to an internal temperature of 160° F
  • Note: The US Dept of Agriculture does not recommend cooking any meat or poultry at temperatures below 325° F
  • Remember that boned and rolled meats will take a longer time to cook than bone-in cuts
  • Hold all hot foods at temperatures above 140° F, and all cold foods at temperatures below 41° F
  • Heat cooked vegetables and fruit to a temperature of 140° F or higher

Store leftovers correctly

Leftovers are great, but remember to follow these safety tips to keep them safe:

  • Refrigerate turkey and the stuffing within 2 hours after removing from the oven:
    • Reheat to 165° F and serve again within 3 to 4 days, or
    • Freeze for later use
  • Store turkey and stuffing in separate containers
  • Use leftover gravy within 1 to 2 days, reheating it to a boil
  • Do not hold or leave cooked vegetables at room temperature

References and recommended readings
Countdown to the Thanksgiving holiday. US Dept of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Updated August 7, 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.

It’s turkey time: safely prepare your holiday meal. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated November 25, 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.

Roasting those “other” holiday meats. US Dept of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service website. Updated August 7, 2013. Accessed September 25, 2014.

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