Perryman nutrition column: Tips to Keep Holiday Food Safe

Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

‘Tis the season for friends and family to gather. Menus are planned and invitations are sent. Shops advertise holiday kitchenware and centerpieces. Too often the festivity and the decorations overshadow the importance of planning for food safety.

The last thing any host or guest wants is to end a get together with an upset tummy that can turn into something much worse. These foodborne infections cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and can result in hospitalization and death. Food that can cause a foodborne illness does not necessarily have an unusual smell, taste or appearance. Though food poisoning can be dangerous, the good news is that it is preventable.

Follow these simple steps to keep your food safe especially if there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

– Clean: Always wash hands with soap. Wash after using the bathroom, changing diapers, playing with animals and handling raw meat. Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds. How long is 20 seconds? Hum a few verses of “Jingle Bells” while you scrub or check out the new musical hand wash timers for kids.

Wash fruits and veggies before slicing, dicing or eating to prevent contamination. Bacteria and other illness-causing agents can be on the outside of fruits and vegetables.

Sponges used to wipe down counters can be a haven for bacteria to grow. Paper towels or clean dishcloths are a better option.

– Separate: Cross-contamination — or the transfer of bacteria from one food or surface to another — increases the risk of food poisoning. Separate raw foods and ready-to-eat foods in the grocery cart, refrigerator and on the kitchen counter. Place raw meat in plastic bags at the grocery store to prevent raw meat juices from contaminating your other grocery purchases on the way home or in the refrigerator.

At home store raw meat on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator to prevent raw juices from dripping onto prepared foods.

Use separate cutting boards for veggies and meats and wash each between uses with warm soapy water. Both wooden and plastic cutting boards are safe to use.

Marinate raw meat in a closed container in the refrigerator. Either discard marinades or immediately heat to boiling to use as an accompaniment but toss any leftovers.

– Cook: Check the label on raw meat for the use by or freeze by date. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or the microwave. Frozen turkey in original packaging can be submerged in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes, to thaw.

Raw cookie dough containing eggs must be baked before sampling.

Use liquid pasteurized eggs in homemade eggnog.

– Chill: Bacteria multiplies fastest between the danger zone of 41 degrees and 140 degrees.

Check the clock when you are ready to serve food. The recommended length of time perishable foods can safely sit at room temperature is two hours. Leaving food out longer provides an environment for bacterial growth. After the meal refrigerate leftovers promptly but discard perishable leftovers left out at room temperature longer than two hours.

Larger amounts of food will chill faster if put into smaller containers.

Put warm foods directly into the refrigerator rather than allowing them to sit on the counter to cool.

– Leftovers: Freeze or use leftover gravy within two days. Poultry, meats, vegetable casseroles and mashed potatoes should be used within three to four days. Refrigerate custard and cream pies.

Take note that some bacteria can still grow at cold temperatures.

As a final note pay special attention to properly storing leftovers if you will be serving them someone who is in frail health, has compromised immunity or is pregnant.

Follow these easy steps to ensure a food safe holiday!