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Holiday Food Safety Tips: Out with the Old and In with the New

By April Hill, Regional Extension Agent Food Safety and Quality


Reckless Thawing

OLD HABIT: More than one out of four Americans admit to thawing their frozen turkey or other main meat dish on the kitchen counter, in the oven or even under hot water in the kitchen sink.  Many people also forget to allow enough time for a large turkey to thaw completely.

NEW TRADITION: To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, frozen meats should be thawed in the refrigerator. Or, if pressed for time, you can thaw a wrapped frozen turkey in a large pot of cold running water do not thaw in warm water in the sink. Or for smaller pieces of meat you can thaw it as you cook it or defrost in the microwave.  Remember a large 10-15 lb. turkey could take up to 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator.

Holding Out on Hot Stuff

Old Habit: Nearly four out of five home cooks think it’s necessary to wait until the foods cool completely before putting them in the refrigerator because it will cause the temperature to rise in the refrigerator.

New Tradition: When storing leftover foods in the refrigerator they should be cooled quickly or put in the refrigerator in less than 2hours.  To insure that foods will cool down in the refrigerator make sure you cut up meats and put larger containers of food in smaller more shallow pans.  Make sure your refrigerator is 41 degrees or lower and that your freezer is 0 degrees or less.

Covered Dish Delivery

Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold

Old Habit: Three out of five holiday families typically travel for at least one hour with their homemade holiday dishes to a relative or friend’s home.

New Tradition: If it’s going to take more than an hour consider packing your cold dish in a cooler or hot dish in an insulated bag to keep it safe and bacteria-free.  Keep hot foods 140 degrees or hotter and cold foods 41 degrees or lower.

Rocking the Gravy Boat

Old Habit: While a majority of home cooks remember to bring gravy to a boil before serving it, many forget the same rule also applies during the encore presentation. In fact, more than half just reheat leftover gravy in the microwave until it’s hot before serving again.

New Tradition: In order to eliminate harmful bacteria, always bring leftover gravy to a boil on the stove before serving it a second or even third time around.  Always reheat foods to 165 degrees

Cooking all Night

Old Habit:  Many people prepare some of their foods like turkey, dressing and some casseroles during the night by turning the oven down to 250 degrees or lower so they will slowly cook.

New Tradition: Either cook the day before refrigerate and reheat to 165 degrees the day of the meal or cook two smaller turkeys at 325 degrees or go out for lunch.  Foods like turkey should not be cooked below 325 degrees because cooking any lower is adding flames to the fire of the already growing bacteria that is there.  Cook an unstuffed 8-10lb Turkey at 325 degrees in an oven cooking bag for 1 ½ to 2 ½ hrs.  It should be 180 degrees when measured with a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or breast.

Too Hurried to Clean

Old Habit:  Many people have lots of people or family in during the holidays and too many times we either have so many in the kitchen or visited the night before and did not take time to clean the kitchen well.

New Tradition:  Always try to clean counters and utensils well and wash your hands before and during the cooking process to prevent cross contamination.  Cooking ahead of time and freezing is a great option too to save time.  Make sure your helpers in the kitchen wash their hands often too.

Storing Foods on the Porch or in the Cold Garage

Old Habit: Many people like to store their pies, cakes and some meat on the porch or in the garage that is not insulated because of lack of storage space and you know great great great grandmother always did this.

New Tradition: Unless you live in Alaska this would not be a good idea because it would need to be 41 degrees or cooler to maintain what refrigerator temperatures would be.  Also animals could happen along and either eat or do something worse to your food.   Also great great great grandmother did not have the environment and additives we have today most of their food was raised on a farm and everything was fresh and more than likely her immune system was much stronger than most of ours today.

Toooooo Many Leftovers

Old Habit: Many people believe leftovers as long as they are kept in the refrigerator will last 7-10 days.

New Tradition: Foods not eaten within 3-4 days should be thrown away.  After 6 or 7 days or more do not feed to animals either.  Leftovers used within 4 days should be reheated to 165 degrees.


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