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Keep holiday meals safe

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POSTED: November 29, 2007 5:00 a.m.
Although most food-borne disease outbreaks don’t normally occur during the holidays, the types of foods used and food practices during that time can increase the risk for food-borne illness.
Many people get so caught up in the hectic pace of the holiday season they aren’t as careful about safe food practices as they might normally be. It’s also a time when we deal with different foods and much larger quantities than is our normal practice.
But no matter the season, the same rules apply

• Clean: Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops.
• Don’t cross contaminate: Don’t let bacteria spread from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Experts caution to keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
• Cook: Cook to proper temperatures. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness.
• Chill: Refrigerate promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40 F and the freezer at 0 F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.

Preparing turkey

If turkey is on the menu and you are buying a frozen one, the safest way to defrost it is in the refrigerator and you will need to allow 24 hours of defrosting for every five pounds of turkey.
For Thanksgiving, that means a 20-pound frozen turkey needs to start defrosting on Sunday. Don’t defrost the turkey on the counter. A microwave is too small for most turkeys, but if using one, cook the turkey as soon as it is defrosted. Turkeys wrapped in leak-proof plastic can be defrosted in cold water, but the water should be changed every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes of defrosting per pound of turkey. Buy your fresh turkey only one to two days before you plan to cook it.
Clear and thoroughly clean the counter before and after you work on the turkey. Clean everything with hot soapy water before and then make extra sure you clean everything afterward that has touched the turkey or its juice. Sanitize sponges by running them through your dishwasher.
Use a meat thermometer when cooking a turkey, even if you use a “pop-up” thermometer that came with the turkey. If you don’t have one, pick one up at the grocery store while you search for the all the necessary holiday menu ingredients. Set the oven no lower than 325 F and cook the turkey until it registers 180 F in the inner thigh. The juices should run clear.
If you buy a hot pre-cooked turkey for you holiday meal, be sure to keep the turkey at 140 F or above if you will be eating it within two hours of picking it up. If you will be eating the turkey more than two hours later or if you buy a cold pre-cooked turkey, you should dismantle the bird and refrigerate it. Remove stuffing from the bird and cut the turkey off the bone. Wings and legs can be left whole. Refrigerate all the food, including any side dishes, in separate shallow containers. Reheat food to 165 F and boil gravy.
For many people, stuffing is the best part of the turkey; but it must be carefully prepared because it is by its nature warm and moist — a perfect environment for bacteria to grow in. Stuffing can be contaminated by bacteria from eggs and shellfish in the stuffing or the turkey itself. The safest way to cook stuffing is on the stove or in the oven separate from the turkey. If cooking the stuffing inside the bird, loosely stuff the turkey just before you stick it in the oven with a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165 F. A “pop-up” thermometer that comes with a turkey won’t tell you the temperature of the stuffing. Avoid pre-stuffed fresh turkeys.
Un-pasteurized apple cider is another holiday food that may contain harmful bacteria. If serving cider to elderly or young guests (or those with weakened immune systems), buy pasteurized apple cider. If you want to buy unpasteurized cider or are unsure if the cider is pasteurized, mull the cider by heating it to 160 F or boiling it if you don’t have a thermometer. When prepared this way, it may be served warm or cold.
Unlike when many of us were children, homemade cookie dough can no longer be sampled safely. Just like in eggnog, raw whole eggs in cookie dough may contain harmful bacteria. If you just can’t make cookies without sneaking some dough, used pasteurized egg products in place of whole eggs.
Holiday meals often mean leftovers and some people believe these are better the second time around. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of preparing them. Separate leftovers into shallow containers and remove turkey from the bone and stored it separately from the stuffing and gravy. Most leftovers should be used within four days except for stuffing and gravy, which should not be used after two days. If that seems like an impossible feat, freeze the leftovers. To serve the items again, reheat leftovers to 165 F and boil soups, sauces and gravies.
 

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