By Samuetta Hill Drew
Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends gather over a specially prepared meal. Much love and care go into the planning and cooking of this special meal, but there are some safety rules that should be followed in the preparation and storage of Thanksgiving foods and leftovers.
Germs that can make you sick can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, cutting boards, and counter tops. Therefore, make sure you follow four simple safety steps – clean, separate, cook and chill. Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces frequently.
It is important to remember the “two-hour rule’ when everyone is sitting around the table eating, laughing, and talking. When cooked food sits out at room temperature, it only has “two hours” before it becomes unsafe. Therefore, make sure you put out just enough food for your guests and place the rest in the refrigerator.
Whether putting food in the refrigerator, the freezer, or the cupboard, you have plenty of opportunities to prevent illnesses. It is estimated that one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. Food poisoning not only sends 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year, but it can also cause long term health problems.
The goal is to keep yourself and others from being sickened by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and C. botulinum, which causes botulism. Keeping foods chilled at proper temperatures is one of the best ways to prevent or slow the growth of these bacteria.
Some basic storage safety tips to follow are:
- Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than “two hours.” This also applies to items such as leftovers, “doggie bags,” and take-out foods. Also, when putting food away, do not crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air cannot circulate.
- Keep your appliances at the proper temperatures. Keep the refrigerator temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer temperature should be 0-degree Fahrenheit. Check temperatures periodically.
- Check storage directions on labels. If you have neglected to properly refrigerate some food items, it is usually best to be safe and throw it out.
- Be aware that food can make you sick even when it does not look, smell, or taste spoiled. This is because food borne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods “go bad.”
- Clean the refrigerator regularly and wipe spills immediately. This helps reduce the growth of Listeria bacteria.
- Keep food covered. Leftovers should be stored in tight containers.
- Check expiration dates
Following a few food safety rules will help you Keep an Eye on Safety so you and your family can enjoy your Thanksgiving meal while remaining grateful and healthy.