Having a food safe holiday season in this case doesn’t mean not overeating but for your own sake don’t overeat. Here I mean keeping the foods you have prepared for your gatherings safe from bacterial growth so not to give the gift of gastrointestinal or stomach distress for your family, friends or yourself. Here at USU Extension Grand County we provide the food safety manager training and testing for all businesses that provide food for their clients. We also provide information for everyone about the safe handling of foods.
We all want our foods to be safe and during the holidays there are more opportunities for foods to sit out for longer periods during gatherings. While there are bacterial organisms that cause foods to smell bad, letting you know not to eat them, many times foods can go bad without developing that tell-tale odor. Foodborne illnesses cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or even flu-like symptoms and can start in a few hours. But symptoms can also take a day to several days to emerge, so it can be difficult at times to determine what the problem food was. To keep your foods safe and your gatherings a great success, consider the following food safety tips approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medical associations and others.
It starts by keeping all areas where food is prepared clean, as well as making sure your hands are clean. Regularly wash your hands and all the places foods contact, such as countertops, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water. Ideally, do this between each item you are preparing. I know many people will have multiple items being prepared all at once, so clean as you go as much as possible.
The FDA suggests rinsing all fruit and vegetables before preparing them but do not rinse raw meat, including poultry, before cooking. This is due to the concern that rinsing off meats can contribute to more bacterial spread in sinks and along countertops. Also, don’t defrost foods at room temperature but rather in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. Once thawed, cook the defrosted foods immediately.
Next, separate the various foods to prevent cross-contamination. For example, keep raw meats and eggs away from foods that won’t be cooked. This is a good practice in the refrigerator as well. It’s suggested that you use one cutting board for raw meats and another for fruits and vegetables.
In cooking, some foods need to reach the appropriate internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Reaching this appropriate temperature is best done by using a food thermometer. Not only does the use of a food thermometer help you know when you have reached the appropriate temperature to kill bacteria, but as an added benefit it helps you to not overcook any type of meat so that it’s even better tasting.
The last tip is to chill. In some ways it is the most important tip because it’s often just not thought of. While it’s important to “chill” during the holidays, relaxing and enjoying yourself, that’s not the food safety part. You should chill food properly and in a timely manner because bacteria can quickly grow in even properly prepared foods that are left out on the counter. During the holidays it’s pretty common for people to leave foods out for family and guests to pick at. I have been told by some that they leave food items out on the counter all day. You should definitely refrigerate all leftovers within two hours of cooking or setting them out on the counter. Your refrigerator should be colder than 40 degrees Farenheit, and you can check that with a refrigerator thermometer. The food doesn’t have to stay out since anyone that is hungry can always go and get the food out of the refrigerator.
Lastly, leftovers should be used within three to four days. Most important of all, if in doubt as to the quality or safety of the food throw it out.
For these holidays, don’t give the gift of digestive upset. Rather, have fun, good food and great fellowship with family and friends.
Thought for the day: “Red meat is not bad for you. Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you!” —Tommy Smothers.
Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, www.moabtimes.com. Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.