Prepared with care: Holiday food safety tips

by Amy Walley Cherokee County AgriLife Extension FCH agent

The holidays are here, and often, we spend a lot of time preparing food for our Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.

Here are a few tips from Texas AgriLife Extension’s “Consumer Guide: Preventing Food-borne Illnesses” to help folks prepare their meals more safely:

• Clean your hands, utensils and food-preparation surfaces often with hot, soapy water.

• Separate cooked food from raw foods to avoid cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria and other germs are transferred to a food from your hands, utensils, cutting boards and other foods, especially raw meat and poultry.

• The safest place to thaw foods is in the refrigerator. If foods are thawed in the microwave, cook them immediately.

• Cook foods to safe internal temperatures, which will kill the bacteria that cause food-borne illness.

• When shopping, choose packaged foods without holes, tears or rips; canned foods should not be dented, rusty or bulging; frozen/refrigerated products should be in good shape.

• Be mindful of “use by,” “sell by” and “expiration” dates on food packages.

• Be sure that foods – whether refrigerated or frozen – are stored at proper temperatures. Chill perishable foods and leftovers as soon as possible to 40 degrees F or below.

• Never leave perishable foods in the 40-140 degree-range for more than two hours.

• Store leftovers quickly. Refrigerate or freeze them in shallow, covered containers to cool quickly. Improper cooling often leads to food-borne illness.

• Leftovers stored in the refrigerator should be eaten within 2 to 3 days. Reheat them until they reach 165 degrees F. Heat sauces, soups and gravies to a rolling boil before serving them.

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