By Jack Connolly, OPACE
The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend time with friends and family. During this season of festive cheer, food is often a central part of holiday celebrations with loved ones. With so many delicious options, it is important to stay safe from certain unwanted guests — bacteria that cause foodborne diseases, which is more commonly known as food poisoning.
Make sure you are safely celebrating the holidays by being aware of these food safety facts:
Bacteria is the Invisible Enemy
Unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, you cannot see, taste or smell bacteria. However, it can still be on food and is able to multiply very quickly in a moist, warm environment. bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Listeria monocytogenes frequent people’s hands and can cause foodborne illness if food is not prepared or handled correctly.
be Eggs-stra Cautious
During the holiday season, people consume many different festive treats like holiday cookies and cupcakes. These can include uncooked or lightly cooked egg products, which can be contaminated with salmonella. To kill any bacteria that may be present, it is very important to thoroughly cook egg products. As tempting as it may be, avoid tasting any extra cookie or cake batter.
Buffet Party Tips
A popular way to celebrate the season is to invite friends and family over for a holiday party that includes a buffet or potluck. However, leaving food out for extended periods can cause bacteria to grow. And nobody wants foodborne illness at their holiday party!
If you are going to be hosting a holiday party buffet-style, or any time you are preparing food, follow these tips so you can celebrate safely with loved ones.
Cook Food Thoroughly
It is important to use a food thermometer to ensure that your food is cooked to a safe, minimum internal temperature, especially when you are preparing items in advance as is often the case this time of year. USDA recommends the following:
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to 145 °F before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to 160 °F.
- Cook poultry to 165 °F.
Follow the Two-Hour Rule
No food should sit at room temperature for more than two hours. After two hours, food could enter the “Danger Zone” (temperatures of 40 °F to 140 °F), where bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause the food to become unsafe due to foodborne illness. Make sure that perishable foods are refried within two hours of being cooked, or one hour if the temperature is 90 °F or above. Discard any food that has been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours.
Roasting Those “Other” Holiday Meats
According to USDA, turkey is certainly the most popular poultry served during the holidays with more than 30 percent of turkeys produced in a given year being consumed during the holiday season. However, many other meats are traditional during the festive season. According to the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, when choosing your holiday meat, be assured that all beef, lamb, pork, veal, and poultry sold at your supermarket have been inspected for wholesomeness by the USDA or State inspection systems. Once your purchase is at home, refrigerate or freeze poultry immediately, cook within one or two hours, and cook fresh meats within three to five days.
If buying specialty meats that are exceptionally tender, roasting is the preferred method. Place roast on a rack in a shallow, uncovered pan and cook in the oven with indirect dry heat. To keep the meat tender and minimize shrinkage due to the evaporation of moisture, a moderately low oven temperature of 325 °F should be used.
USDA does not recommend cooking meat and poultry at oven temperatures lower than 325°F because these foods could remain in the danger zone.
For more tips about food safety, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email MPHotline@usda.gov to reach a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda. gov. The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm ET (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.