NASHVILLE – At this time of year special foods and favorite family recipes often hold a place of honor at holiday celebrations.
In addition to enjoying these foods in moderation, be careful to safeguard your family’s food memories from an unpleasant or serious bout with food-borne illness. The Tennessee Department of Health urges all Tennesseans to practice safe food handling by taking precautions while preparing, packing, transporting and storing food to keep meals safe and healthy.
“Fall and winter holidays offer lots of opportunities for Tennesseans to enjoy celebrations that involve wonderful foods made with loving care at family meals and office parties, but we have to take care that these events don’t present opportunities for food-borne illness,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Safe food handling is what is needed to protect the people you care about from getting sick from germs that can hide in improperly cooked or handled food.”
Federal authorities estimate there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses such as norovirus, E. coli, shigella and salmonella in the United States each year–the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans. These illnesses can be more than an unpleasant nuisance, and cause an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths nationwide every year.
Safe food handling should start long before a meal is served, beginning in the kitchen with food preparation and storage. Follow these tips to help keep food safe:
• Wash hands and surfaces: Start with clean hands, counters, utensils and cutting boards before preparing food. Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.
• Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs securely wrapped and separate from other food items when grocery shopping and in the refrigerator at home. Use separate cutting boards and plates for these items.
• Thaw and marinate foods in the refrigerator. Never thaw or marinate food on the counter, as bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature and make the outside thawed parts potentially dangerous even if the food item is still cold and frozen inside. If planning to use some of the marinade as a sauce on cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade that has been used on raw food.
• Clean all produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before preparing or serving, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
• Keep cold foods cold. Cold food should be stored at 40° Fahrenheit or below and kept at that temperature until serving time to prevent bacterial growth. When taking a chilled dish to a party, transport the cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
• Cook food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to be sure food is safely cooked. Steaks, roasts, pork and fish should be cooked to 145° F; ground beef and pork to 155° F; whole chicken, chicken breasts, turkey and ground chicken to 165° F.
• Keep "ready" food hot. Keep prepared hot foods in a warm oven, crock pot or chafing dish to retain proper temperatures at or above 140° F.
• Don't reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to cooked food. Use a clean platter and utensils to serve food.
• Chill perishable foods promptly. Leftovers of prepared, perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent growth of bacteria. Chilled foods that have remained at room temperature for longer than four hours should be discarded. The refrigerator should be between 32° and 40° F, and the freezer should be at 0° F or below.
Cooks and helpers in the kitchen should remember to wash hands before preparing food, after handling any raw items and frequently during food prep and cooking. Everyone should wash hands before eating.
If there’s any question about the safety of a food item before, during or after cooking, remember this rule: “If in doubt, throw it out.” For more tips on safe food handling and storage, visit www.foodsafety.gov/.