MedSpring Viewpoints

Ultimate Guide to Cook Safely & Avoid Food Poisoning this Holiday Season

’Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry. But with all the festive foods and beverages also comes the risk of food poisoning. In addition to putting a damper on holiday festivity, foodborne illness can be serious.

holiday food prep tips

Here’s some food safety advice to keep in mind as you prepare and enjoy your holiday meals.

  • Never let any food sit out unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours—this is the point at which harmful bacteria start to multiply rapidly. For longer buffet-style parties, set a timer to remind yourself, then swap the food for a fresh set from the refrigerator once you reach the 120-minute mark.
  • Put out serving spoons and tongs with all dishes to prevent contamination between guests. Unappealing as it sounds, about half of all people have staph aureus bacteria on their fingertips, so the fewer fingers that touch the food, the better.
  • Don’t double dip. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 36% of Americans admit to dipping their chips, fruits, or veggies more than once at holiday parties. This is a sure-fire way to give others gifts of germs and bacteria.
  • Although it’s tempting, refrain from sampling cookie dough; it contains raw eggs, which can contain salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.
  • If you plan to make eggnog, use pasteurized eggs, which have been heated to kill bacteria. Then heat the mixture to at least 160°F and refrigerate it immediately.
  • Go for pasteurized apple cider, Unpasteurized ciders may carry E. coli and other potentially harmful bacteria.
  • Eat all refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days. To prevent leftovers from making you or someone else sick, refrigerate them as they come off the table and throw away any food that has been sitting out for more than two hours.

Turkey & Ham Safety Tips

  • How do you safely thaw a turkey or ham?

When it comes to thawing meat, it’s all about temperature. The danger zone, where foodborne bacteria can start to multiply, is between 40°F and 140°F. To avoid this range, try to avoid thawing on the kitchen counter, in the oven or under hot water. Instead, thaw your meats in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

– If you thaw in the refrigerator, plan ahead and allow 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds. For example, thawing a 16- to 20-pound turkey will take four to five days.

– If you choose to thaw in cold water, seal the turkey or ham in plastic wrap, change the water every 30 minutes and cook the meat as soon as it is thawed.

– And if you thaw in the microwave, we recommend reading your owner’s manual first to determine the minutes to thaw per pound. Remove all outside wrapping, place it on a microwave-safe plate to capture the juices and put it in the oven to cook immediately after thawing completely.

  • Any recommendations for preparing the meat?

Raw poultry and ham can contain bacteria that could make you sick. To protect yourself and others, wash your hands immediately after working with the bird, and before you touch utensils, work surfaces, or other foods. Also, remember to completely disinfect all cooking surfaces and utensils that came into contact with the raw meat.

  • Can I stuff the turkey?

The safest way to cook stuffing is outside the turkey, where it cannot come into contact with potentially harmful bacteria. If you insist on stuffing your bird, put the stuffing in loosely, and stuff immediately before the turkey goes into the oven.

  • How long should I cook my turkey or ham?

Preparing meats requires a delicate balancing act. Roast it for too long, and it may become dry. Take it out too early, and you risk making guests sick.

To reach the sweet spot, set your oven temperature no lower than 325°F and make sure the turkey or ham are completely thawed before you cook it.

– For turkeys: Use a meat thermometer to test the innermost part of the thigh and don’t take the bird out until both the meat and the stuffing have reached at least 165°F. (Other poultry, such as duck, goose, and quail, should also reach 165°F.) Let the bird stand for at least 20 minutes out of the oven before you start to carve.

– Holiday hams: Roasts should have an internal temperature of at least 145°F. For uncooked hams it is recommended the cooked temperature reach 160°F to ensure all bacterial is killed. Allow the roast to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving or carving.

As an important side note, another part of the holiday meal—gravy—can also harbor bacteria. Be sure to bring gravy to a rolling boil before you serve it to your guests.

This year, give the gift of holiday cheer and not foodborne illness with these handy food prep tips.  For more information on food poisoning and symptoms, check out our website.

From all of us at MedSpring, we’re wishing you a safe (food poisoning-free) and happy holiday!

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