Remember food-safety fundamentals during the holiday season

December 22, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In light of all of the recent reports of foodborne illness, it is important to remember the fundamentals of food safety when you are preparing food during the holidays, according to an expert in Penn State's College Agricultural Sciences.

Consumers can do a lot to protect themselves and their guests from contracting foodborne illness, noted Martin Bucknavage, extension food-safety specialist.

"There are plenty of activities occurring during the holiday season, so it's important that extra attention is paid to controlling food pathogens that may be present on raw foods -- Salmonella on raw turkey meat for example -- or that can make their way onto food from infected food handlers," he said.

Follow these food-safety tips to protect your family, friends and yourself during the holiday season, and any season, Bucknavage advised:

-- Clean as you go. Raw meat can leak juice onto the counter surface and utensils. This liquid potentially can contain thousands of pathogenic bacteria. "Cleaning up with a detergent and light bleach sanitizer will prevent these droplets of bacteria from contaminating food you are about to eat," he said.

-- Proper handwashing. Have soap and clean towels available for you and your guests to wash their hands. This is especially important to do after handling raw foods such as meat, or touching any unclean item.

-- Cook to the right temperature. Know the proper temperatures for cooking the foods you plan to serve. Use a digital cooking thermometer to ensure the proper temperatures are being met. "If food is undercooked, pathogenic bacteria can survive and then lead to foodborne illness when that undercooked product is consumed," Bucknavage said.

-- Store foods properly. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you are planning to serve hot foods for more than two hours, place foods in a slow cooker or chafing dish. Keep cold foods at or below 40 F or on ice.

"Be sure your refrigerator is set at the right temperature -- best if between 34 and 38 F -- and that it is not overloaded so that you have good air flow around products," he said. "If perishable food such as meat and dairy items are not stored cold, those products can support the growth of bacteria.

"Do not leave leftovers out for more than two hours. Properly wrap them and get them into the refrigerator."

-- Preparing foods to go. When preparing foods to take to an office function or other holiday get-together, extra care must be taken to transport foods so that those foods don't make other guests sick. When preparing perishable foods, such as dairy-based or meat-based items, keep foods cold and in a well-sealed container during transport.

"Be sure the host has the ability to heat those foods to at least 165 F before serving if they are to be served hot," Bucknavage said.

It helps to plan in advance for the foods you wish to serve, he pointed out. And knowing the proper temperatures for cooking and how you plan to store and serve those items will reduce the chance that contaminated food will be served to guests.

"The holiday season is one for celebration, not for recuperation from a foodborne illness," he said.

  • People can do a lot to protect themselves and their guests from contracting foodborne illness, said a Penn State food-safety specialist.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 22, 2011