Don't let foodborne illnesses crash your holiday festivities this year. Incorrectly prepared or improperly stored food can be dangerous and even life-threatening, especially for older adults, young children and pregnant women. Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and usually start a few days after the contaminated food is consumed.
Follow these food safety tips for happy and healthy holiday meals.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
Germs on your hands can contaminate the food you and your family eats.
- Wash food contact surfaces such as cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops after preparing each food item and before beginning the next item.
- Use separate cutting boards for foods that will be cooked, such as meat and seafood, and ready-to-eat foods such as raw fruits and vegetables.
- Rinse fruit and vegetables thoroughly and use a scrub brush to remove surface dirt.
- To avoid spreading harmful bacteria, do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Keep raw meats, poultry and seafood away from foods that won’t be cooked, both at the store and at home.
- Do not put cooked meat back on the same plate that has held raw meat.
- Use a food thermometer to ensure meat has reached a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into multiple locations of the bird (thighs, wings, legs, and breast) within the thickest portions of the meat to ensure an internal temperature for at least 15 seconds. Stuffing inside the bird should also be reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees for 15 seconds. Check out Foodsafety.gov's helpful Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart..
- Never defrost food at room temperature, i.e., on the counter. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. A 20-pound frozen turkey needs two to three days in the refrigerator to thaw completely, so plan accordingly. Cold running water and the microwave may also be used to thaw food, but food defrosted in this manner should be cooked immediately. See Foodsafety.gov's tips here for thawing a turkey safely.
- Use the two-hour rule. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of serving. If necessary, set the oven timer when you sit down to eat to remind you when to put away the leftovers.
- Your refrigerator should be set no higher than 40 degrees and the freezer at 0 degrees. Hot casseroles and gravies can make your refrigerator struggle to keep the correct temperature. Cool hot foods down at room temperature and/or in an ice bath in order to cool rapidly. Cool foods down to 70 degrees or below before storing in the refrigerator.
When it comes to food safety, a good rule-of-thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” Food that looks or smells off, or has been sitting out for an extended period should not be eaten.