Many of holiday meal favorites are foods made from scratch. It is important that you follow safe food-handling practices for all the ingredients that go into those holiday dishes. Foodborne illness can strike anyone so you should always follow the basics of clean, separate, cook and chill.
1. Keep everything clean. The most important rule of safe food handling is to always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.
Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.
2. Keep foods separate. Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination).
Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as eggs, raw meat, poultry, or seafood, their juices, and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
Do not put cooked meat or other food on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
3. Cook food until it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness, use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipes calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
4. Chill. Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
Refrigerate leftovers and all perishable foods within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie.
Never defrost food at room temperature. Safe defrosting methods include: in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours.
Leftovers should be used within three to four days. Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
Follow the basic food safety rules of clean, separate, cook and chill for a festive, delicious, food safe holiday.
Websites for food safety information: www.fightbac.org; www.befoodsafe.org; www.foodsafety.gov; www.fda.gov or www.fsis.usda.gov