According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), “Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food.” It’s important to know that foodborne illness is the most common during the months of November and December. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take, like considering food safety temperatures and other basics, to keep you and your loved ones well this holiday season!
First, it’s important to know the basics of food safety. Following these steps every time you prepare food will help prevent foodborne illness.
1. CLEAN: Take the time to wash your hands, clean your kitchen cooking surfaces and utensils, and wash your produce before you use it. Do you know how long you are supposed to wash your hands for in order to effectively clean them? It’s about 20 seconds or the length of time to sing happy birthday to yourself. It’s important that all kitchen surfaces and utensils are clean prior to cooking, as well as right after cooking so as to prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce your chances of bringing pests, such as mice or ants, into your house.
Produce must be cleaned before eating or cooking because it may also be harboring bacteria or other pathogens from the grocery store or from the ground it was growing in. I like to wash my produce in a nice clean sink filled with water with a splash of white vinegar added to it. I let the dirt fall to the bottom of the sink as the produce soaks in the water, then I take it out and rinse it well and allow it to air dry.
2. SEPARATE: Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat away from fresh produce on surfaces and in the fridge. This is an important one. Raw meat is especially prone to containing bacteria and other pathogens and must be kept separate from ready to eat foods. The best way to thaw meat is in a shallow dish with a lid in the refrigerator overnight and up to 2 days. This is to ensure that that the meat or fish stays at a safe temperature throughout the entire thawing process.
It also ensures that no drippings or juices from the thawed meat accidentally touch other foods in the fridge. Always use separate cutting boards and utensils when handling raw meat and produce. Clean the area that was used to cut or handle raw meat with a disinfecting cleaning solution before placing other foods or produce in that area.
3. COOK: Use a cooking thermometer to consider food safety temperatures in order to tell when all the bacteria has been killed during cooking. This is the only way to determine if your food has reached a safe temperature. According to the Food Safety Inspection Service, hot food must be kept hot at a temperature above 140 F. Leftovers must be reheated to 165 F. It is recommended to cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F before removing the meat from the heat source.
For safety and quality, allow the meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Poultry should register 165 °F to be considered safe to eat.
4. CHILL: Never let perishable food sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. I often see this at parties and gatherings. Dips, catered food, appetizers, and main courses are typically left to sit out for hours for guests to nibble on, but the longer a food sits out at room temperature, the more opportunity it has to harbor pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Make note of how long the food has been sitting out for and store it into Tupperware containers in the fridge or freezer before two hours. Otherwise, you’ll have to throw it away.
Remember, your freezer is your best friend when it comes to storing food you’ve prepared and saving it for another day. This can save you time in the long run, but a good tip is to put a label on the container of food you put in your freezer and keep tabs of what you have stored away. Freezing food will keep bacteria at bay, but the quality of the food may not be as good after a year of being in the freezer. For best quality use frozen foods within 6 months. Check to make sure your freezer and fridge are at the correct temperatures. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
Following the food safety basics are the main ways to prevent foodborne illness all year round and can make the difference in saving you a trip to the hospital or emergency room. Many people may have been in contact with food that has been contaminated with harmful pathogens, but fortunately their immune systems have been strong enough to fight it off. Those who are more prone to developing foodborne illness are children younger than 5 years, adults aged 65 and older, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems due to medical conditions such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and HIV/AIDS; or to receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Post written by FFC Registered Dietitian Emily Marshall.