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Keep your holiday food safe

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 10:51 a.m. CDT

One of the many highlights of the holiday season is enjoying food with family and friends. Everyone wants to be helpful, but too many “cooks in the kitchen” can potentially increase risk of food borne illness. This is particularly true when people who rarely prepare food at other times of the year are now in front of the stove. By taking simple precautions, you can reduce this risk of food borne illness. Check out these tips and share with all those helpers in your kitchen this holiday season.

Wash Those Hands

• Be sure everyone handling food washes their hands before, during and after working with food.• Keep kitchen surfaces — such as appliances, countertops, cutting boards and utensils — clean with hot, soapy water throughout food preparation.• Use two cutting boards: one for raw meat, poultry and fish and the other for ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables. • Use separate spoons and forks to stir, taste and serve food.

Be Careful When Thawing Foods

• To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, thaw frozen turkey and other meats in a refrigerator set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or in the microwave. Never thaw meats on the kitchen counter, in the oven or under hot water in the sink. If defrosting food in the refrigerator, cover raw meat and place it on the bottom shelf so juices don’t drip onto other foods.• If foods have been thawed in the microwave, be sure to cook them immediately afterward. If you are pressed for time, thaw a wrapped frozen turkey (breast-side down) in a sink filled with cold tap water. Be sure to change the water every 30 minutes.

Know When Your Turkey Is Done

• Use a meat thermometer to make sure meats reach a safe internal temperature. This is the only reliable way to determine the doneness of your food.• Cook whole turkeys to 165°F. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer at the innermost part of the thigh. If you’re cooking a stuffed turkey, be sure stuffing reaches 165°F before serving.• Cook holiday hams and pork roasts to 145°F.

Boil Your Gravy

• To kill harmful bacteria, bring gravy to a steady boil on the stove before serving.• This rule also applies to leftover gravy. Simply microwaving leftover gravy until it is hot is not sufficient to kill harmful bacteria.

Follow the Two-Hour Rule

• Holiday feasts can sometimes last for hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking the foods. After more than two hours, bacteria rapidly begin to multiply on perishable food items. Consider keeping some fresh food in the refrigerator to bring out at the two-hour mark.

Chill Dishes Right Away

• It’s a common mistake to let cooked foods cool before they go into the refrigerator. To chill a dish for serving or storage, promptly place it in the refrigerator after cooking. This ensures freshness and safety.• Check that your refrigerator temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.• Store leftovers in airtight, shallow containers (two inches deep or less).• Remove turkey from the bone and store it separately from the stuffing and gravy.

Use It or Lose It

• Reheat leftovers to 165°F. Bring leftover gravy to a steady boil on the stove before serving it a second time.• Eat leftover casseroles, cooked vegetables and refrigerated cooked turkey within three to four days. Use stuffing and gravy within one to two days.• Finish fruit, cream pies and cheese cake within two to three days.• Regardless of how many days have passed: If in doubt, throw it out!

No Sampling of the Cookie Dough

• When baking cookies, cakes or brownies that include eggs as an ingredient, resist the temptation to taste raw dough or batter. Raw eggs may contain harmful bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Cook treats before giving in to your sweet tooth.

Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

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