November 9, 2009

Tis’ the Season- Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

By Nan Jensen, Families & Consumers Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Soon the smell of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie will fill the air. Family and friends will be gathering around the table for those special holiday dinners. Food safety is something we normally don’t think about when we are busy preparing for the holiday feast. But handling and serving food safely is important to prevent to keep you and your guests healthy during the holiday season.

Here are some simple food safety tips to keep in mind.

Plan ahead and properly defrost your turkey. The rule of thumb for defrosting a turkey is 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird. Always defrost in the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter. You can always choose a fresh turkey which should be purchased no more than a day or two ahead of when you plan to cook it.

Cook to proper temperature and use a thermometer. This is the best way to when food is done and to ensure that any potential bacteria are destroyed. For more information on thermometers and internal cooking temperatures check out the following publication.

Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Leaving food out too long is one of the biggest holiday food safety problems. After dinner is finished, many of us enjoy catching up with family and friends that we haven’t seen in awhile and forget about the time. However, when food sits out for more than two hours above 40 degrees it is prime for bacterial growth. Therefore, it is important to get food in the refrigerator as soon as the meal is finished. When storing leftovers put them in 2-inch deep, shallow containers and make sure the refrigerator is not over-packed so there is plenty of air circulating around the food so it can be properly cooled. When storing the leftover turkey, cut the meat off the bone. This will allow it to quickly cool to the proper temperature, as well as make it easy to store.

Wash your hands thoroughly and often throughout food preparation. Washing hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe. Aim for washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Use a water temperature that is comfortable for you. Research has shown that water temperature is not as important as the actual mechanical action of hand washing.

Wash all fresh produce. All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.

Use care when reheating leftovers. One of the best parts of the holidays is enjoying the leftovers. Always reheat the leftovers to 165 degrees to make sure any bacteria are destroyed. Use those leftovers within 2 to 3 days or freeze them for longer keeping.

For more information on food safety go to

Our best to you and your family for a happy and safe holiday season.

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