Keep a food safety game plan ready this season

Keep tailgating, transporting holiday foods and mail order foods safe this season.

With weekend tailgate parties in season and the holiday meals quickly approaching many of us will be transporting food to family and friends for special gatherings. Just a few steps can ensure that the food arrives safely to your destinations.

First, consider traveling with perishable foods. To transport cold food, wrap it and then place in an insulated cooler that contains ice cubes or freezer packs. If you are transporting hot food, keep them hot by wrapping them first in clean kitchen towels and then with newspapers packed in a corrugated box or insulated cooler. Serve or reheat within two hours.

Next, let’s consider that some cooks forego cooking holiday foods at home altogether and choose to purchase precooked dinners. There are also basic safety measures for the safe handling of these holiday meals. If the dinners are to be picked up hot, keep the food hot. Keeping food warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria multiply fastest in the "danger zone"—the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the oven temperature high enough to keep the internal temperature of meat and side dishes at 140 F or above. Eat the food within two hours of pickup. When picking up cold dinners, refrigerate them as soon as possible, always within two hours. Serve the meal within one to two days.

Finally, a nice surprise from family or friends, or even ordered by yourself, is food ordered that is shipped in the mail or by home delivery services. If you take advantage of these services you need to know how it’ll be shipped and what to look for when the food arrives. Here are some tips on how your food should be packaged, per the United States Department of Agriculture:

If you’ve ordered meat, poultry or other perishable food items, it should be packed in dry ice or some other cold source. It also should be shipped in foam or corrugated cardboard boxes.

  • Food, especially perishable food, should be sent out to you quickly – overnight, if possible.
  • Make sure the box or outer packaging is labeled “Keep Refrigerated.” If it is, open the package immediately and check the temperature of the food. It should be fully frozen or at least partially frozen with ice crystals clearly visible on the food.
  • If you have any concerns about the food’s temperature, check it with a food thermometer. If the temperature is above 40 F or if the food does arrive warm, notify the food company and do not eat the food.

Lastly, if you receive any food during the holidays that you feel is suspicious or wasn’t packaged properly, do not eat it. It’s not worth the risk.

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