The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends over delicious food and drinks (make mine water). But be careful to incorporate safety precautions into your meal prep to help keep everyone you love in good health. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 48 million people get sick; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 people die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States.
An estimated 11,000 dogs and 12,000 cats per year get sick from an illness related to pet food. The good news is that, with proper planning, you can reduce the risk of unspecified pathogens for people and pets and prevent unknown agents from undermining your plans for a happy, healthy holiday season.
Comprehensive food safety includes careful preparation relative to purchase, preparation, service and storage.
If your “to do” list includes grocery shopping, run the rest of your errands before buying perishable items. The temperatures inside your car (which can rise by nearly 20 degrees every 10 minutes in 70-degree weather), can contribute to the growth of foodborne bacteria and germs. The U.S. Dept of Agriculture recommends that raw meat, for example, never be left outside of your fridge or freezer for more than two hours. I think it’s safest to just eat it immediately after buying it. I’m up for the challenge!
Wash your hands and cooking surfaces, often. And don’t use the same towel for drying dishes and hands.
Keep raw meats away from other foods. You may want to invest in several cutting boards, so you can cut meat on one and raw veggies on another, to avoid cross-contamination.
Observe safe cooking temperatures. Cook raw meat and poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature. When roasting meat and poultry, use an oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Use a meat thermometer to assure that beef, poultry and pork reach a safe minimum internal temperature.
Your mom was right. Despite how tempting raw cookie dough is, you should wait to consume cookies until they are properly baked. Even packaged, prepared dough that is free from raw eggs can contain unknown pathogens. So, be safe. Cook them according package instructions to kill bacteria that could make you sick. I’ve always preferred bacon to cookies.
Though you may be tempted to linger after the meal before tackling cleanup, take a few minutes to promptly refrigerate food. The dishes can wait. Germs won’t.
Most people who succumb to food-related illness will recover without intervention. But even mild illness can prove hazardous to anyone with weak immune systems, including the very young, elderly, pregnant, and people who take medication that suppress the immune system. To be safe, practice good food safety all through the year, not just during the holiday season. When in doubt, throw it out. Or give it to the dog. Yeah, give it to the dog.
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