It’s the most wonderful time of the year – until somebody gets sick at your holiday gathering. If you are cooking for friends and family this year, make sure you don’t spread bacteria that can cause harmful foodborne illnesses.
According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and North Carolina State University, recent research suggests that Americans are performing poor food handling practices when preparing food at home.
The study revealed that 66% of participants in the control group did not use a thermometer to check the temperature of the ground turkey burgers. Even when participants did use a food thermometer, only 54% of turkey burgers reached a safe internal cooking temperature of 165°F.
Participants also spread potentially harmful bacteria from raw meat and poultry onto other surfaces or food items. In fact, participants contaminated 48% of the spice containers, 11% of refrigerator door handles, 11% of water faucet handles and 5% of chef salads during the meal preparation.
Millions of Americans come down with foodborne illnesses (also known as food poisoning) each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are four tips to keep your food safe this holiday season:
1. Clean your hands thoroughly for a full 20 seconds with soapy water. Always serve food on clean plates and avoid reusing plates that previously held raw meat and poultry.
2. Separate raw meat, poultry and egg products from ready-to-eat foods.
3. Use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature:
-Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, chops and roasts): 145°F with a 3-minute rest
-Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal: 160°F
-Poultry (whole or ground): 165°F
4. Chill leftovers within two hours of cooking. Keep track of how long items have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything that has been out longer than two hours.
If you take food to a holiday party, keep hot foods hot (140°F or above) and cold foods cold (40°F or below). Use separate, insulated containers for hot and cold foods, and make sure that cold foods are packed with cold sources, such as ice or frozen gel packs. The best way to ensure food is being held at a safe temperature while traveling is to place an appliance thermometer in the cooler, FSIS recommends.
Download the FoodKeeper app, available for both Android and iOS devices, to check storage times and preparation tips for more than 500 food items to make sure your holidays are as happy as can be for you and your guests.