By John A. Ruibal, Prowers Medical Center Dietitian
The holidays are a time for family and friends to reconnect and reflect on the past year and look forward to the bright future of the coming year. It is also a time for celebrating, and during this time food takes the spotlight.
It is important when cooking and preparing food for friends and family that you follow good food safety techniques to avoid turning a happy celebration into one that causes your guests to get food borne illness. Here are a few simple guidelines to keep your food safe for the holidays, inspired by the Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill techniques developed by the USDA.
- Always start food preparation by washing your hands. The proper technique is to turn on both hot and cold water to get a warm temperature. Wet your hands then lather up with soap, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ while you lather as this will last about 20 seconds. Next, thoroughly rinse your hands, dry your hands with a paper towel and then use that paper towel to shut off the water. Faucets and door handles are great areas for bacteria to hang around so avoid recontaminating your hands after washing.
- Separate foods to avoid cross contamination. Use different cutting boards and knives for meats and vegetables or be sure to clean cutting boards and knives between prepping different foods.
- Correctly thawing and cooking the star of your holiday dinner—the turkey—is crucial in making sure your dinner is both safe and delicious. Therefore, 1) Allow 24 hours for every 4 – 5 pounds of turkey to thaw safely, and 2) If you are using an ice bath allow 30 minutes per pound. 3) Cook your turkey at 325 degrees, use a meat thermometer, and cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. This is equal to 15 to 20 minutes per pound but should be checked with a thermometer to ensure the turkey is cooked to 165 degrees.
- Cook and chill foods to the correct temperature. The danger zone for bacteria growth is 40 to 140 degrees. Keep cold foods below 40 and hot foods above 140 degrees F.
- Don’t save leftovers if they have been setting out for more than 2 hours.
- Chill hot foods quickly before storing in the refrigerator by separating into smaller containers. Another technique is to freeze a water bottle and use it to stir hot liquids to rapidly drop their temperature.
If you have a smart phone download the Foodkeeper app. This app will give you food preparation and storage temperatures for most foods. The app can be found on the Food Safety.gov web page. The app was developed by the USDA in conjunction with Cornell University and can be downloaded for Android or Apple devices for free.
By following these few steps of Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill you can keep your family and friends both happy and safe during the holidays.