Savvy cooks already know the basics of food safety: clean surfaces and utensils; separate raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood from ready-to-eat foods and don’t contaminate plates or utensils with raw juices; cook to proper internal temperatures; and chill, i.e. keep cold foods cold and refrigerate leftovers within two hours. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) advises all cooks and food handlers to go beyond the basics this holiday season, however.
“Food is a big part of the winter holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years,” said Sandy Adams, VDACS Commissioner, “and many people attempt to cook a big meal who don’t have a lot of experience in the kitchen. That leaves room for mistakes that can make guests sick. Food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States.” She adds that food safety is even more crucial for infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
VDACS lists a few safety tips below but encourages everyone involved with holiday food preparation to go to foodsafety.gov for more information:
- Wash your hands, but not your turkey– Washing your hands before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria, while washing your turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen.
- Take the temperature of the bird –The only way to avoid foodborne illness is to make sure the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature of 165º F as measured by a food thermometer. If you cook stuffing in the turkey (not recommended), check its temperature, too.
- Consider the food safety advantages of a slow cooker –The direct heat from the pot and lengthy cooking time combine to destroy bacteria, making slow cookers a good choice for safely cooking foods.
- Stuff your face but not your turkey – For optimal safety, do not stuff the turkey. Even if the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria. Cooking stuffing in a separate dish is safest.
- Follow the two-hour rule – Don’t leave perishable foods at room temperature (on the table or countertops) for longer than two hours.
“By following these food safety guidelines, I believe everyone can have a safe and healthy holiday,” said Adams, “and I encourage shoppers to look for Virginia products when purchasing items for holiday meals.”