Written by Sarah Huber, RDN, Nutrition Manager
From freshly carved turkey and gravy to beautifully decorated gingerbread cookies, the holidays are filled with a variety of special foods and traditions. No one wants to miss out on celebrations with loved ones because of a food-borne illness, so follow these simple tips to keep your holiday foods both delicious and safe:
- Wash your hands – This is the most important step you can take to prevent the spread of germs! Using soap and warm water, carefully wash all parts of your hands for at least 20 seconds. Use a clean towel or hand dryer to dry your hands when you are done. Hand sanitizer should only be used when soap and water are not available.
- Cook food thoroughly – Use a food thermometer to make sure that foods – especially meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs - are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Do not eat raw dough or batter, and use pasteurized eggs for holiday favorites like eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce, or Caesar dressing that traditionally call for raw eggs.
- Keep food out of the temperature “danger zone” – Bacteria grows rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold! Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within 2 hours of preparing them. Make sure your refrigerator is set at or below 40°F and your freezer is set at or below 0°F.
- Thaw foods safely – Never thaw frozen foods on the kitchen counter because this can encourage harmful germs to grow. Instead, thaw frozen food packages in the fridge 1-3 days before you need them or place them in a sink of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. You can also safely thaw foods by using the “defrost” setting on your microwave.
- Keep foods separated – Store and prepare raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separately from other foods to prevent cross contamination. Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for cooked and raw foods, and use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash all supplies that touch raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
- Check product dates – The dates listed on packages – “best by”, “sell by”, “use before” - can be confusing when deciding whether or not a food is still good to eat. The good news is that the majority of dates listed on products are measures of the food’s guaranteed best quality, not a safety or expiration date. Most foods can be safely consumed past the date listed as long as they are unopened and stored properly. Exceptions include infant formula, baby food, and medications – these should not be consumed past the date listed.
As a food bank, we are committed to preventing perfectly good, nutritious food from going the landfill so that it can feed our neighbors in need instead. Many of our staff members and agency partners have found our “Is This Food Still Good?” handout to be very helpful when distributing foods that might be close to or just past their listed product dates.
Gleaners wishes you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy holiday season!