The holidays are great occasions to build family memories and connect with loved ones. The foods served often connect us to special memories from the past. But, did you know that people over 65, children, and pregnant women are at higher risk for food borne illness? To ensure that your holidays are merry, here are some tips to help prevent foodborne illness from crashing your party:
- Wash your hands prior to starting food preparation, making sure to wash all surfaces of the hands and nails for at least 20 seconds. Singing “Happy Birthday” is a good way to ensure you have washed long enough.
- Rinse fresh produce under running water prior to prepping these items.
- Use separate cutting boards for produce, meat, shellfish and eggs to prevent cross-contamination. Wash cutting boards in warm soapy water after prepping each food item.
- When baking with little kitchen helpers, teach children not to eat batter or dough with raw eggs.
- Reused sponges and towels are a harbor for harmful bacteria. When you have multiple hands in the kitchen, paper towels can be safer.
- Avoid leaving food out on the counter to defrost. The only safe ways to defrost foods are in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately.
- A thermometer is a great tool to make sure you fully cook hot items. Be careful not to place cooked meat on the same plate that previously held raw meat. Click here for some recommended cooking temps for holiday favorites.
- Avoid rinsing meat or poultry, as this can spread harmful bacteria.
- Don’t stuff your bird! Instead, cook your stuffing separately. If you choose to stuff your bird, the stuffing must meet an internal temperature of 165°.
Enjoy–but watch out for the danger zone!
After everyone is gathered around the table, enjoy your meal safely by monitoring the time foods are in the temperature danger zone (40°-140°).
- Hot foods should be held at a minimum temperature of 140°. Slow cookers, warming trays, and chafing dishes can help keep foods hot enough.
- Keep cold dishes in the refrigerator until just before serving. When serving, placing trays on ice can help keep foods chilled.
- Use a fresh serving plate and utensil to replenish items that run out.
When sending family members home with leftovers, keep the following tips in mind:
- Discard perishable food items that have been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Remember, you can’t tell if an item is bad by taste, smell, or appearance.
- Use shallow containers to store leftovers to allow for quick cooling.
- Reheat any leftovers to a minimum temperature of 165°.
For additional information check out the CDC’s information on food safety and this advice for holiday cooks. If you are interested in learning more about preparing healthy and safe holiday foods this season, contact your local VA to learn more about the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program, or to meet with a PACT dietitian to help adjust some of your family’s favorite recipes to meet your health goals.
Jackie Roos MS, RDN, LDN, CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Memphis VA Medical Center. She teaches diabetes classes as a part of the American Diabetes Association Accredited Self-Management Education Program as well as providing inpatient diabetes education.