Food Safety Increasingly Vital As We Head Into the Holidays

Posted on November 7, 2012

With the presidential election over, the political ads that have inundated our televisions are no more.  And taking their place will be ads inundating us with messages about holiday bargains that we can’t afford to miss.

Yes, the holiday season is officially upon us.  And nowhere is the threat of foodborne illness more apparent than during this particular time of the year.  As families scramble to get food ready for get-togethers on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, safety precautions tend to be overlooked in the rush to get food out on the table.  To combat the increased risk of foodborne illness during the season, the California Department of Public Health offers a variety of safety tips.

First, consumers need to know the right temperature to cook things at.  Whether a dish is ready isn’t predicated on whether your guests are sitting around the table.  Steaks, pork chops, and roasts all need to be cooked to about 145 degrees, while ground beef and things like lamb or veal need to be a bit warmer at 160 degrees.  But poultry, turkey, and anything that has been stuffed needs to be heated even higher, to at least 165 degrees, even if that means waiting a few more minutes to set the food out.  And when you eat leftovers in the following days, make sure that the product is cooked in every area by turning the dish and stirring the meal at regular intervals.

Before you even start cooking, though, it’s imperative that you wash your hands with soap and water both before you handle raw foods and after.  You don’t want bacteria from said food hopping to your hands where it can easily be transmitted to others or make you yourself sick.  You also should carefully wash any utensils, plates, and surfaces with soap and water both before and after you use something.

It’s also surface areas where the greatest threat of cross-contamination presents itself.  Don’t put fruits and vegetables and other items that don’t need to be cooked in an area that has just hosted a raw meat of some sort.  And it should go without saying that they shouldn’t contact a raw meat itself.  Veggies and fruits can also be further secured by running them under a faucet before serving or preparing.  And if you’re going to try something to see if it’s ready, make sure you taste it with a utensil that hasn’t been used to prepare any other item.

Finally, understand how to properly thaw food.  Turkeys are the hardest to thaw, taking up 96 hours for particularly large birds.  There are certain shortcuts, such as wrapping it and placing it in cold water that’s changed every 30 minutes.  And although defrosting in the microwave is admissible, you need to then cook the turkey immediately after defrosting is complete.

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