With all the holiday food preparation looming, I thought I probably should remind everyone of some food safety tips. Contamination of food can happen at any point in the production process. You have control once these products get to your home. Before these products reach your home, they are in the hands of your grocery store and their suppliers. Think of all the areas contamination could occur from the fields/farms to the holiday table. Contaminated irrigation water, wild animals, poor hygiene by employees, equipment malfunction, these are all areas in which foodborne illnesses has been linked too.
So what can you do to ensure that the food is safe that you are serving to your family? Keep your hands and countertops clean by washing with hot soapy water before and after preparing food. Wash utensils and cutting boards with hot soapy water after each use. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cook foods to the proper internal temperature. Chill leftovers within 2 hours by dividing food into shallow containers for rapid cooling. Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature of the fridge, keep it below 40 °F.
Unless food will be frozen, it’s safest to start preparing most perishable foods no more than a day before the meal. For example, assemble a vegetable casserole a day in advance, refrigerate, and then bake the day of the meal. Cold dishes may require additional baking time. Wash fruits and vegetables under cool running tap water then cut within a day of your meal for salads and relish trays. Store all cut fruits and vegetables covered, such as in storage containers or one-time use plastic bags in the refrigerator. Remember to store fresh-cut produce and all ready to eat food on the top shelf. Store raw meat, poultry and fish in a covered container on the bottom shelf so juices can’t drip on other foods.
Understand expirations dates: Sell by date- The last day the food should be sold in a store. A food is safe to eat after the “sell by date” if it has been handled and stored safely. Best if used by date- Eat the food before that day for best quality and/or flavor. A food is potentially safe to eat after this day has passed IF it has been handled and stored properly. Use by date – The last day you should eat a food to get its best quality. Foods are potentially safe to eat after the “use by date” IF they are handled and stored properly (except bagged produce). Expiration date – The VERY last day that a food is safe to eat.
And finally, as a general rule-of-thumb, purchase fresh raw meat, poultry or seafood no more than 1 to 2 days before your holiday meal. Freeze for longer storage. These foods taste freshest if cooked the day of your meal. If your meat, poultry or seafood is frozen, plan time for safe thawing in your refrigerator. Allow approximately 24 hours for each 5 pounds of weight.
Here are some tips to put the focus back on the family and friends rather than frenzied (and possible unsafe) food preparation. Begin by limiting the number of foods you serve to a few favorites so you have less to prepare. Try making fewer desserts. Do we really need a separate counter just for desserts? Remember, desserts spelled backwards is stressed.
You can save time by setting your table the day before your holiday meal. Also, set out all food preparation and service utensils and let those kids help you. Remember, there is a reason your friends and family are gathering together and you should be part of that fun and fellowship too. Take a little time to plan ahead and simplify. And take my new advice and ‘get out of the kitchen, company’s here!’ Slow down and enjoy our family and friends. Memories are made from that fellowship.
For more information, contact Sherri Halsell, Texas AgriLife Extension agent, at (940) 538-5042.