Americans may love cooking shows on TV and food channels on social media, but just over half of all meals are now prepared at home, and many of those “meals” are snacks or just heating up convenience foods.
The exception? The holidays. And as inexperienced and out-of-practice cooks get into the kitchen, their lack of knowledge about food safety can show up as trips to the emergency room after the holiday meal.
Here’s how to keep your holiday safe as well as delicious:
- Wash your hands before you cook. And after you’ve rubbed the dinner bird down with sage. And after you pet the dog and give him a little treat. And after you’ve hugged all the grandkids, including the one with a runny nose. get the picture? Keep hand soap by the sink and encourage everyone to use it before and during food prep.
- Cross contamination can lead to illness when cooks cut raw meat and then use the same cutting board to cut other foods. Chicken, turkey, pork, and beef can all have microorganisms that die when they’re fully cooked. Getting the juices of the meat onto vegetables which don’t get cooked as thoroughly as meat can lead to tummy troubles. It’s best to have one cutting board for meat, one for poultry, and one for vegetables and fruits. If that’s not your kitchen style, be sure to wash the board thoroughly before reusing it. The same thing holds for mixing bowls and other kitchen gear.
- How often do you cook a turkey, a large beef roast, or another large piece of meat? Not often, if you’re the average American cook. Mostly just during the holidays, right? So you might not cook the meat as long as you should.Remember those microorganisms we mentioned above? An undercooked turkey can be dangerous. For the safest outcome, check the temperature of your festive beast with a meat thermometer. And do the math — see how many pounds your piece of protein is and allow enough time to cook it according to the classic cook’s timetable.
- Bacteria feel happy and comfortable between 40 and 140 degrees, so that’s where your food shouldn’t be. Serve cold foods cold and hot foods hot. If your family likes to graze, leave out less perishable foods like nuts, cut up raw fruits and veggies, cookies, and cheese and crackers — not turkey, mashed potatoes, and cream pies.
- Wrap leftovers and put them into the refrigerator or freezer right away, even if you’re sending them home with guests later. Long trip home? Think about getting an inexpensive cooler to keep that food safe on the drive.
- Do the same thing if you’re bringing your special broccoli casserole to a holiday dinner in the next state.
With a little care, you can enjoy holiday goodies without worry.