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Holiday Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety on November 22, 2018

Every time another food recall hits the news, it’s hard not to get frightened. Even if you never buy that brand, it’s a reminder of how easy it is for the food supply to be contaminated. We all have vague notions of what we’re supposed to do to safely handle food in the kitchen.  But there is so much we don’t know, and so often our paranoia is random, and procedures dictated by the influences of this or that friend whose aunt’s friend had this or that experience. Then there are confusing delicacies like steak tartare, tiger meat, ahi tuna, (or even eggs over easy) which fly in the face of recommended cooking procedure.

No one wants to make their friends or family sick. With the holidays coming up, you may find yourself entertaining a large group of people that includes more of the at-risk populations (especially the elderly, pregnant women, and children) than usual.

When dealing with at-risk individuals, it is best to follow the cooking guidelines provided by the FDA and CDC for temperatures and how to proceed with all those traditional holiday dishes that involve raw eggs (the CDC’s handy holiday safety list recommends using pasteurized eggs when making dishes with raw eggs).

Holiday parties also typically mean food sitting out on buffet tables for hours. Much longer than you’d normally have food sitting out, in any case.

How can you make sure to proceed wisely with all that food?

It helps to understand that bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments. This is why refrigeration (keeping food under 40 degrees) and cooking (required internal temps vary) prevent harmful bacteria from setting up little war camps on our food, multiplying like crazy, and then being consumed by us.

The FDA, the USDA, and have some great information to help us take care of our families and prevent food born illness. The Kitchn blog also compiled a good comprehensive resource on food safety.

Safe Food Preparation

The FDA distills everything you need to know about safe food prep down to four words: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

  1. Clean. Clean. Clean!
  • Make sure to wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching food. Here’s another helpful hint: Imagine instead of raw chicken juice, you’d spilled glitter on your hands. It takes more than a quick splash of water to get the glitter off, and that glitter gets everywhere and sticks everywhere until you get it off your hands.
  • Wash your cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water after working with food.
  • Wash counter tops and sinks before and after handling raw meat to remove the possibility of splatter contamination.
  • Rinse all fruits and veggies, even if you’ll be peeling them. Do not rinse chicken, as this only spreads raw chicken around the kitchen and does nothing to remove bacteria from the raw meat. Only cooking will ensure the meat is safe.
  • Before you open canned goods, wash off the lid and lip.
    • Even when shopping, keep your raw meat and eggs separate from your produce and dry goods. In the cart. In the bags. In the refrigerator at home.
    • Have designated meat cutting boards. Do not use these for produce.
    • Follow the safety guidelines for meat internal temperatures, using a meat thermometer so you can know for sure:
      • Beef, Pork, Lamb 145 °F
      • Fish 145 °F
      • Ground Beef, Pork, Lamb 160 °F
      • Turkey, Chicken, Duck 165 °F
    • Make sure to put food in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of cooking or removing from the cooler at the store. If it is 90 degrees or hotter outside, make that 1 hour.
    • When thawing or marinating, keep food in the fridge. You can also thaw under cold water or in the microwave.
Safe Party Procedures

As you prep for holiday feasts, consult the FDA’s handy refrigerator and freezer storage chart for the safe shelf life of fresh foods. After you’ve followed the Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill, guidelines, here are some party specific tip.

The USDA has a list of tips for safe party procedure (which you can find here). Keep in mind the danger zone that is 40 degrees-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

  1. Hot means hot, cold means cold.

Prep hot snacks as close to serve time as possible. Encourage everyone to eat up while they are steaming hot. After two hours, one on a hot day, hot snacks aren’t hot and go in the fridge.

Use ice to keep cold foods like cheese, cold. If possible, prep smaller trays of cool snacks like veggie dips or cheese trays which can be rotated through the refrigerator if necessary.

Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers to keep hot foods hot while serving.

  1. Be heartless. When in doubt, toss it out.

Place leftover food in clean containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately.

If the food has been sitting out for hours, toss it. Especially if you or your loved ones are among the high-risk population (elderly, pregnant women, children, or immunocompromised) it is not worth the risk.

  1. What to look for. has a fantastically terrifying chart of the various bacterium of food poisoning and the symptoms which accompany their infection. Some of these bacteria are familiar names, like salmonella, clostridium botulinum, or e.coli. Others are less familiar, like Cyclosporiasis and listeria.

Most food poisoning sets in within hours or days, and manifests with abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Some strains also affect vision and breathing, some cause fever, meningitis, respiratory failure, death, and even still births among pregnant women. Bacteria are no laughing matter.

If you think you or a loved one have a food born illness call your doctor immediately and seek treatment. If you have any suspicions about what poisoned you or your loved one, save the food package, can or carton. Take a picture or save your receipt. Report your illness to the health department.

We at MakeFoodSafe wish you and yours a happy (and food poisoning free) holiday season!

By: Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)