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Holiday Food Safety

November 25, 2019

Food & Nutrition Column
Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
Extension Educator-Health & Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County
574-533-0554, lienhart@purdue.edu

Holiday Food Safety

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. A big part of the holidays is food! Keeping food safe is important year-round according to Mary Ann Lienhart Cross, Extension Educator of Health & Human Sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. With the extra food preparation during the holidays, food safety becomes more challenging. We will be preparing, serving and storing more food than normal.

Lienhart Cross says there are several areas that you need to think about. Start with keeping food cold or hot enough to prevent the growth and spread of harmful bacteria. Also, consider the number of guests, menu, and quantities of food you will be having. Be sure there is adequate refrigerator space and heating units on hand to maintain correct temperatures. Think about using insulated coolers to not only keep food cold, but also warm. 

Be sure to wash hands, utensils, counter tops and cutting boards with hot soapy water before and after working with food, especially raw meat or poultry. Bacteria can spread when these items are prepared along with other foods. For example, if a knife is used to cut raw meat, the knife, hands and cutting board must be washed thoroughly before using the same tools for chopping salad vegetables. If this is not done, the bacteria from the meat could transfer to the vegetables.

An important rule to practice is that foods that are cooked or that were refrigerated should not stand at room temperature for more than two hours. These include cream pies, creamed vegetables, seafood and dishes with eggs, meat and poultry. Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Also, when eating leftovers make sure to heat them to 165 degrees F. During family meals, only set out the quantity of food that will be eaten quickly. Replenish from the refrigerator or oven as needed.

Preparing a holiday turkey means planning ahead to allow plenty of time to get the bird thawed. The suggestion is 24 hours for every five pounds. The larger the bird, the longer it takes to defrost. It can be thawed in the refrigerator safely. If it must be thawed more quickly, seal it in a water-tight plastic bag and immerse in cold water. Defrosting at room temperature invites bacteria growth.

Never partially cook poultry with the plan to finish cooking it later. Bacteria will survive.  Stuffing is especially vulnerable to bacteria growth. It is safest if cooked separately. However, if it is cooked in the turkey cavity, Lienhart Cross advises to be sure that the stuffing reaches at least 160 degrees F. Also, prepare the mixture and stuff the turkey just before putting it into the oven. Never stuff the bird the night before. If using commercially frozen stuffed poultry, do not defrost before baking.

Make a food preparation plan beginning with foods that can be cooked well in advance and frozen, those that can be stored in a refrigerator for a day or so and dishes which can be made the day of the dinner. Help keep the holiday mood festive by eliminating any chance of a foodborne illness spoiling the fun. Cleanliness, proper food handling and planning ahead will ensure a pleasant and healthy time for all! ###

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