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USDA explains why food safety should be at the top of all of our holiday lists

Submitted Editorial

Wed, Dec 9th 2015 07:10 pm

Editorial by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service

With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday season is just gearing up. The next few weeks are full of good cheer and plenty of food.

To help keep your holiday season healthy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food safety and inspection service is issuing holiday-inspired food safety recommendations for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, Three Kings Day and other festive gatherings. These tips come from years of experience working to make sure the meat, poultry and egg products you eat are safe, wholesome and properly labeled.

To start, download the FoodKeeper application. This smartphone and tablet app created by FSIS will help you evaluate what items in your refrigerator and pantry are still good and which might be past their prime. As you're putting together dishes for meals at home or parties at work, it will help you make sure you're using fresh ingredients.

The FoodKeeper offers storage advice on more than 400 different food and beverage items and can help you decide what you can keep and what you should throw out. It also offers guidance on leftovers, which you'll probably have a lot of after the big meal.

Steps to follow when cooking a holiday roast:

•Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.

•Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.

•To avoid overcooking beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts, use a meat thermometer. These roasts should be removed from the oven when they reach an internal temperature of 145° F, and should allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.

•Turkey, duck and goose should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F, as measured by a food thermometer. Temperatures should be taken in three areas of the bird: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh.

Food safety tips for holiday party buffets:

•Keep hot food hot and keep cold food cold by using chafing dishes or crock-pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140˚ F and cold items should remain below 40˚ F.

•Use several small plates when serving food.

•Discard perishable foods left out for two hours or more.

•Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen immediately in shallow containers. Reheat leftovers to 165° F.

•If you're transporting pre-cooked food to a holiday get together, keep cold foods safe on the way there by placing items in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep them at or below 40˚ F. If you're transporting hot foods, wrap dishes in insulated bags or towels and newspaper to keep their temperature above 140˚ F.

Top food safety holiday gifts:

•Food thermometer: A useful tool for even the most experienced cook, as it is the only way to ensure meat is fully cooked.

•Cutting board: Using separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat food is a great way to prevent cross-contamination.

•Kitchen towel: These towels should be washed frequently to avoid cross-contamination, so a home cook can never have enough kitchen towels.

Steps to follow mail delivered holiday food:

•Check with the mail delivery company to ensure they send perishable items, like meat and poultry, cold or frozen, and pack it with a cold source.

•Foods should be packaged in a foam or heavy corrugated cardboard container.

•Delivery should occur as quickly as possible - ideally, overnight.

•Foods should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold - below 40° F as measured by a food thermometer.

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov and follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA meat and poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time weekdays.

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