With all the hustle and bustle of preparing holiday meals, it can be easy to forget about safe food handling.
Every year, about 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses, sending 128,000 people to the hospital and killing about 3,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Mindy Brashears, a professor at Texas Tech and former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety, said one of the biggest things people forget about is cross-contamination.
“You want to clean your surfaces. You want to separate your raw produce from your cooked produce and/or produce that won’t be cooked like raw fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Additionally, washing your hands frequently, especially after handling raw meat, is another safety practice that Brashears said she recommends in addition to not washing the turkey.
“When you wash it and put a lot of water on it, studies have shown that the bacteria from the turkey gets thrown around your sink and contaminates your sink, which tends to cause cross-contamination,” she said. declared. said.
Here are some other tips Brashears passed along this holiday season to keep everyone safe.
Plan to front defrost turkey and other meats
“People tend to just want to put it at room temperature. Never do that because it gives pathogens the opportunity to grow,” Brashears said.
There are two ways to do this: either in a bain-marie or in the refrigerator.
“In the refrigerator, which is going to take a while because turkeys are large and it’s recommended to allow 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey weight,” she said. “You can (also) thaw it in cold water. It’s a little quicker, but you have to change the water every hour when it starts to warm to room temperature.”
She said this method can be used for ham, prime rib, steaks and seafood.
Important Temperature to Remember When Preparing Holiday Dinners
Brashears said there are important temperatures when cooking and after cooking, not only for meats but for other dishes as well.
When cooking meats, remember to check that the internal temperature corresponds to the following elements:
145℉ — Ham, prime rib, lamb, beef and pork.
165 ℉ — Turkey (check temperature under breast and wing)
For those who enjoy stuffing during the holidays, Brashears said they should use extra caution when cooking in the turkey to avoid cross-contamination.
“You need to put a food thermometer inside that stuffing to get the stuffing to a temperature of 165℉, because those raw juices also seep into the stuffing,” she said.
When after all the hard work in the kitchen has paid off and everyone is eaten, Brashears said it’s important to return the food to the refrigerator within two hours to avoid the danger zone — 40 ℉ to 140℉.
“Even if you’ve cooked it once and killed the bacteria, there are spores that can survive,” she said.
Brashears said people can put the food directly in the refrigerator before it cools, cut up the turkey and put it in small containers so it can cool afterward.
Use the Right Type of Eggs When Consuming Raw Eggs
Eggnog is a staple in some homes, but Brashears said it’s important to use the right kind of eggs to avoid getting sick.
“If you want to make something that can contain raw eggs, they have to be pasteurized,” she said. “But if you’re going to cook your eggs or boil them or whatever or you have a product that’s going to be cooked – same recommendation, just make sure it’s cooked to 165 degrees.”
Need help? Call the USDA Hotline
There is a lot of food safety information that individuals need to be aware of and instead of spending valuable time searching the web for answers, individuals can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1- 888-674-6854 where they will respond. any question of food safety.
This article originally appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Food Safety Tips to Keep Your Family Safe When Cooking for the Holidays.