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The holiday season is one of the best times of the year, yet the endless rounds of buffets, late-night baking sessions and grazing at parties can set the stage for a potential food safety disaster. Make the holidays festive, fun, delicious and safe by following these simple food safety tips:
1. Wash your hands
Hand washing, with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, is the single most important way to prevent the spread of disease.
2. Don't cross-contaminate your cutting board
Use one cutting board for raw meat only and another cutting board for fruits and vegetables. Or wash and rinse a single cutting board in hot soapy water before and after each use.
3. Follow the two-hour rule
Don't leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. This time limit includes preparation AND serving time. Just one bacterium can grow to 2,097,152 deadly bacteria in seven hours if not kept under control! Be especially careful with perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products.
4. Keep hot foods HOT and cold foods COLD
If you're planning a buffet that includes hot foods such as sausage stuffing or scalloped potatoes, serve the foods hot in a Crock Pot or other system that will maintain a temperature above 165 degrees. Cold foods, especially recipes that include eggs or milk, should be served on ice and kept below 40 degrees.
5. Thaw food in the refrigerator
Small items will thaw overnight but larger foods, such as a frozen turkey, will take one day for every five pounds. Food left to thaw on the kitchen counter is a potential haven for bacteria. Make sure you plan ahead to leave enough time to fully defrost foods safely.
6. Be cautious with leftovers
Remember that two-hour rule? Cover and refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Use leftover meats or grains such as pasta and rice pilaf within three to four days and gravy and sauces within one to two days.
And watch out for these potential holiday food safety disasters:
- Shrimp cocktail where the shrimp are not kept on ice.
- Cheese and crackers that sit at room temperature for hours.
- Holiday cheese balls that sit on the buffet table for the entire evening.
- Dips for crudite that are not kept on ice.
- Roasted turkey that is allowed to "rest" on the counter for an hour before serving, then stays on the counter until leftovers are offered later in the evening.
- Cream pies that are not kept refrigerated.
- Sandwich meats that are stored on the counter or buffet table for long periods of time.
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