Holidays meals require planning and food safety

The small things you may not have considered which may put you at risk for foodborne illness when preparing a holiday meal.

Preparing for a large holiday meal gathering requires a lot of planning. That planning not only includes preparing the shopping list, but also checking your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have enough storage space for the perishable items you are getting ready to purchase. Overloading the refrigerator can be a problem, especially during the holidays. Air needs to circulate to keep the refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The best way to check the temperature is to use an appliance thermometer. Also be aware of how often you are opening the refrigerator – frequent opening causes the temperature to rise.

When preparing the meal, one of the most important food safety recommendations is hand washing. If anyone is helping you, make sure they also wash their hands before handling any food. Good hand washing should take 20 seconds.

No matter how much planning you do to prepare for a large meal there always seems to be leftovers. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following practices for handling and storing leftovers.

  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers, they cool much quicker. Leftovers stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within three to four days. Foods stored longer than three to four days may become unsafe to eat and cause foodborne illness.
  • Storage time for frozen foods is much longer. Refer to this food storage guide from North Dakota State University for suggested storage times for frozen food. Foods kept frozen for longer than the recommended storage times are safe to eat, but may be drier and not have as good of a quality.
  • Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry and casseroles that have been at room temperature longer than two hours. Some exceptions to this recommendation are foods such as cookies, crackers, bread and whole fruits.
  • Remember the famous saying – “When in doubt, throw it out.”

For all the time and effort that you put into planning and preparing a large holiday meal, it is equally important to follow good food safety practices.

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