Are you ready for this season of food? If you’re cooking, do you have everything you need? The grocery stores will be packed with last-minute shoppers looking for the missing cranberry sauce, evaporated milk or bread crumbs for Grandma’s stuffing recipes.
As you’re making your dinner plans, don’t forget food safety. In a year that’s seen hundreds made ill by E. coli and other food-borne illnesses, it’s important to remember that improperly cooked and/or stored food will result in unnecessary, avoidable trips to the hospital over the next few weeks.
To help you make your preparations easier, we turned to the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, where they take calls every day on proper handling of foods, especially during this time of year. Some of these may seem simple, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that are forgotten.
- Thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator. Don’t set it out on the counter or in the oven overnight; you increase the probability of growing bacteria when you do that. If you forgot to take it out of the freezer, you can always thaw it in water or in the microwave, but by far, the best way is still in the refrigerator.
- Use an actual meat thermometer to see if your food is done; don’t rely solely on your timer or the pop-up thermometer that comes with turkeys.
- The USDA recommends not purchasing pre-stuffed raw turkeys or chickens. Whole turkey and chicken should be stuffed immediately before putting it in the oven.
- Don’t cook a roast turkey overnight at a low temperature. According to the USDA, it’s not safe to cook any meat or poultry in an oven set lower than 325 degrees. At 200 degrees, meat stays in the “danger zone,” where bacteria multiply quickly and cause food poisoning.
- Pregnant women, young children and those with compromised immune systems have a greater chance of getting sick from food poisoning and its complications. Stay away from perishable foods that are room temperature for long periods of time. Keep hot foods hot, either in a chafing dish, a slow cooker or warming tray. Cold foods should be kept below 40 degrees by serving them in a bowl inside another bowl of ice or by putting smaller amounts out on the table and refilling often from the refrigerator.
- Foods with milk and eggs need to be baked completely first before being eaten and need to be stored in the refrigerator to stay safe.
There are so many ways for you to enjoy the season – just make sure not to do it in the hospital emergency room.