The holidays are a time for get-togethers with family members and friends.  Since these are the most important people in our lives, the last thing we want is for them to get ill or injured during this wonderful time of year.  

Although we all consider things like safe travel and protecting our homes from fire or burglary while away, one important thing that receives less thought is food safety.  While food in America is very plentiful and generally safe, you might be surprised to learn that the CDC estimates that 76 million foodborne illnesses, including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, occur in the United States each year!

So, with this in mind, what do you need to do to make sure you prepare your food safely?  A simple way to think about it is in 3 steps: Before cooking, during cooking, and storing for leftovers.

Step 1: Defrost Foods Safely

Frozen foods are usually thawed before cooking.  During defrosting, foods can spend too much time at unsafe temperatures, allowing the growth of infectious bacteria.  Three safe ways to defrost food include:

  • Placing your food in the refrigerator overnight to thaw gradually.  While this approach is the slowest, it ensures that your food never reaches an unsafe temperature.
  • Defrosting your food using the microwave which reduces the amount of time required to defrost and potentially be exposed to unsafe temperatures.
  • Or placing it under cold, running water in the sink, which also accomplished defrosting in a shorter timeframe than just letting the food sit at room temperature.

The key is to ensure the food moves as quickly as possible from safe temperatures (frozen or refrigerated) to being thoroughly cooked.

Step 2: Cook All Food to Proper Temperatures

 If food is to be cooked, it should be done thoroughly, which will decrease the chance of germs remaining alive to cause illness.

Meat is usually the most dangerous part of the meal.  In addition to proper thawing, it must be cooked properly.  One way to ensure your meat has been properly cooked to kill any infectious bacteria within it is to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. The correct temperatures for cooking meat include:

  • Steak should be cooked to 145 degrees F.
  • Pork should be cooked to 145 degrees F.
  • Fish and shellfish should be cooked to 145 degrees F.
  • Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F.

Be sure the thermometer reaches the deepest portion of the meat to ensure it is cooked through and through.

3.  Store Leftovers Correctly

Finally, store leftovers properly. Make sure all of your containers are clean, dry, and safe for protecting your food.  Storing food in plastic containers is generally safe.  But, when reheating leftovers, avoid doing so in plastic containers, as heating such containers may release harmful chemicals into your food.  

If you will eat your leftovers within a day or two, you can safely store them in the refrigerator (at about 34F). Keep in mind that some food will last longer in the refrigerator than others.  If you are not going to eat your leftovers soon, you should put them in the freezer instead (at about 0F). 

Before eating your leftovers, you should reheat them in a metal or glass container or plate to a temperature of 165 degrees F to kill any potential pathogens. 

Don’t forget Food Allergies:

As you develop your menus, consider the possibility of food allergies. Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any known food allergies. Keep a list of everything you put in the food, and inform your guests before they eat if there is anything included on the menu that someone is known to be allergic to. 

Rely on the Team from the CapRock Health System

If you believe that someone is suffering from a food-borne illness or an allergic reaction to food we are here to help you. At CapRock Health System, our team of medical professionals is always standing by to help you. Please reach out to us to learn more about our services.