The holiday cooking season is heavenly and hazardous. Tasty platters of turkey, stuffing, and treats come with countless opportunities to spread foodborne illnesses. Kitchen mistakes cause almost 25 percent of food-sickness outbreaks, says Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, a nonprofit food-safety organization. Here, how to keep your kitchen risk-free for festive times or anytime.
A quick pass under cold water doesn't cut it when washing your hands, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a nutrition professor at Boston University. "Use soap and hot water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds." Wash when you start cooking and whenever you switch between types of food prep, whether it's from potatoes to carrots or poultry to parsley. "All foods are susceptible to cross-contamination," Blake says.
Never thaw food, especially meat, on a counter. While the insides will take hours to defrost, the outsides will warm to room temperature too quickly, which allows bacteria to thrive. Instead, thaw foods in a pan in the fridge. For turkey, allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds. And remember to cook the entire bird to 180 degrees and check the temperature with a thermometer!
Perishable food that sits out at room temperature (usually 64 degrees to 80degrees) should be tossed after two hours to prevent a bacteria-population explosion, Blake says. That means big buffet platters are danger zones. Try serving smaller portions and refilling as needed with backup platters from the fridge or oven. Put hot dishes in chafing dishes or slow cookers that can stay at or above 140 degrees.
Pack leftovers in small, shallow containers instead of one big one so they'll cool more evenly and won't warm up your fridge. The fridge temp should be 40 degrees or below; keep a stick-on thermometer ($12.99) inside, and check it weekly. And as leftovers mount up, organize your fridge so the most perishable foods go in back. "They'll stay cold even on days when you're opening and closing the fridge nonstop," Blake says.