Keeping food safe during the holidays

THE OLYMPIANDecember 4, 2011 

Whether you are hosting a sit-down holiday meal, a buffet, a gathering with tasty appetizers, or contributing to a potluck, there are important tips to ensure the food you serve is both delicious and safe. Carefully following the steps of clean, separate, cook, serve, and chill will help protect your family and guests from food poisoning.

Clean your hands by washing them for 20 seconds with soap and running water before handling food as well as in-between tasks. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water right away, before going on to the next task. 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 fruits and vegetables even if you plan to peel them.

Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from produce or cooked and ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates for raw and cooked food. Make sure you do not mix up your preparation equipment, such as using the same spoon to stir the pie filling and another dish. Store raw foods, like meats, below fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in your refrigerator. These steps help prevent cross-contamination that occurs when bacteria from one food product is spread to other foods.

Cook food thoroughly by using a food thermometer to check temperatures. Different meats need to be cooked to different temperatures:

Poultry: 165 degrees throughout.

Beef, lamb, pork and other whole meats: At least 145 degrees.

Ground beef, lamb, pork, or other ground meats: At least 160 degrees.

Stuffing and casseroles: 165 degrees.

Fully cooked hams or reheated yummy leftovers: At least 165 degrees.

Serve hot foods at temperatures above 140 degrees by using chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Keep all cold foods at temperatures below 41 degrees by nesting dishes in bowls of ice, with the ice up to the same level as the food. Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250 degrees) or cold in the refrigerator until serving time.

Replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. Many people’s hands may have been taking food from the dish, which also has been sitting out at room temperature. Discard food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours.

Chill food rapidly to 41 degrees or below by placing it in shallow, uncovered containers. Food should get out of the danger zone (41 degrees to 140 degrees) in less than two hours. Move perishable food into the refrigerator or freezer within this time. Use your food thermometer to be sure your refrigerator temperature stays below 41 degrees. Allow enough room in the fridge for cold air to circulate.

Follow these basic steps to keep the celebrations festive and free from food poisoning. For more information, go to foodsafety.gov.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or yud@co.thurston.wa.us.

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