Be aware of food safety during holidays

The holidays are here, and over the next couple of weeks we will feast on many wonderful foods at parties and family gatherings. According to the American Dietetic Association, nearly half of all Americans will spend more time cooking and baking during the next few weeks than any other time of the year. However, some of these holiday traditions could be a recipe for food poisoning.

When preparing your holiday feast, remember to cook your food to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature kills most bacteria that cause food poisoning. Keep cooked foods that will not be served immediately at a holding temperature of 140 degrees to 165 degrees to minimize the chance of bacteria growing and multiplying.

Just because food has been served once, does not mean it cannot be safely be served again. Leftovers can be safe to eat and enjoy as long as safe food handling practices are followed. Perishable leftovers such as meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, dairy, cooked rice, vegetables and pastas that usually require refrigeration, should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

If leftovers cannot be refrigerated or frozen within two hours, they should be discarded. Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within four days. Freeze any leftovers that aren’t eaten within four days of refrigeration.

Frozen foods should be used within two to four months. Once they are taken out of the freezer, leftovers should be used within four days.

To cool leftovers, refrigerate them immediately. Cold food should be held at 40 degrees or colder. Very hot items can be cooled at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes prior to being refrigerated. Deboning large pieces or meat and dividing them into smaller portions can hasten cooling foods. Use shallow containers, and layer food no more than two inches deep.

When reheating properly stored leftovers, frozen leftovers should be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave oven or by heating them on the stove. Do not thaw food on the kitchen counter. Leftovers should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should be checked using a thermometer.

Soups, sauces and gravies should be reheated until they reach a rolling boil. Reheat only what you plan to eat since any reheated, uneaten leftovers should be discarded.

When preparing foods, wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Always wash your hands after handling raw foods, eating, drinking, smoking, sneezing or coughing. Bacteria also can spread throughout your kitchen and get onto knives, sponges, dishtowels and cutting boards.

Minimize cross contamination by handling cooked and raw food separately. Sanitize knives, cutting boards and other utensils before and after preparing foods.

To ensure a happy and healthy holiday season remember to: cook foods to proper temperatures, chill foods promptly in the refrigerator, keep raw and cooked foods separate, and keep your hands, utensils and work space clean and free of bacteria.

Whitney Roberts is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.

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