Fall is a time of family gatherings and food is often the centerpiece. Whether you’re tailgating at the game or roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure you’re not serving a side of foodborne disease.
November and December are the biggest months for outbreaks of Clostridium perfringens, the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. This bacteria grows in cooked foods left at room temperature and causes vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.
The most common mistakes leading to food poisonings are handling raw meats incorrectly and undercooking meats. To keep your celebrations safe make be sure to follow the basics of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.
- Wash hands, utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food – especially when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
- Do not wash or rinse raw turkey. It may be the way your mother always did it, but it has been found to spread poultry juices which then contaminate countertops, utensils and other foods.
- Discard cutting boards that have cracks because bacteria can live there. ∙ Use paper towels instead of cloth towels on kitchen surfaces.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. ∙ Use different utensils to prepare versus serve raw meat or eggs.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate in your grocery cart and in the refrigerator.
- Use sealed containers for raw meat, seafood and poultry.
- Discard marinade that has been used to flavor raw meat.
- Use a meat thermometer to check that meats have cooked to the appropriate internal temperature.
- Poultry – 165 degrees Fahrenheit (use a thermometer even if turkey has a pop up indicator).
- Beef, pork veal and lamb – 145 degrees Fahrenheit (160 if ground).
- Stuffing in bird – 165 degrees Fahrenheit (wait 20 minutes after taking turkey out of oven to remove stuffing; this allows it to cook longer).
- Use chafing dishes, crockpots and warming trays to keep buffet foods at 140 degrees or higher.
- Reheat leftover meats/stuffing to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving. Chill
- Refrigerate at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or freeze cooked foods within two hours, or within an hour if you are outside in weather that’s over 90 degrees.
- ∙ To thaw frozen meats, place in a sealed bag and immerse in cold water in the refrigerator. Change the water every 30 minutes, then cook thawed food immediately. ∙ Label leftovers with their “expiration” date:
- 3-4 days for cooked meats, omelets or quiches
- 1 week for hard boiled eggs
- 3-4 days for soup; 3 months for frozen soups
Make food safety a routine habit and share these techniques as you teach younger family members how to prepare meals.