The holidays are a time when food is at the center of the celebrations.  There are many ingredients to all meals, however the most important ingredient is food safety.  There are many ways to keep food safety at the forefront of preparation.  First and foremost, make sure to wash hands often and prepare foods on a clean surface.  Always separate ready-to-eat foods from foods that need to be cooked; for example, do not prepare raw chicken near fresh fruit.  Properly cooking all foods is another important step to prevent foodborne illness.

Cook food thoroughly. Meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can carry germs that cause food poisoning. Use a food thermometer to ensure these foods have been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. Hot foods must always be held at 135 degrees or higher and cold foods at 41 degrees or below.  Keep food out of the danger zone. Bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature. After food is cooked, keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

Refrigerate or freeze any perishable food within 2 hours. Some dishes may contain raw eggs, including eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce, and Caesar dressing. Always use pasteurized eggs when making these and other foods made with raw eggs.

Remember to not defrost meat on the kitchen counter. The safest and best way is to defrost meat in the refrigerator. After the meal, immediately refrigerate leftovers such as meat, dressing, gravy or soups in small shallow containers. Do not allow foods to sit several hours at room temperature as this will provide time for the growth of disease-causing bacteria.

Recently there have been several food recalls with one of the largest ones being romaine lettuce. The CDC is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. Coli infections linked to romaine lettuce from the Central Coastal growing regions in northern and central California. If you do not know where your romaine lettuce was harvested, do not eat it or serve it to residents/patients and throw it away. Make sure to wash and sanitize anything that may have been in contact with the romaine lettuce.

These tips aren’t just useful during the holidays, it’s good to practice food safety year-round.