Keep Your Holidays Food Safe

Sometimes I wonder what happens to common sense during the holidays.

I know things get hectic, but many people seem to “throw caution to the wind” when it comes to food safety.  Over the next few weeks, you’ll have many opportunities to enjoy food, so please keep food safety in mind.

This should be especially true when entertaining. Some of your guests may have special needs. Remember that the young, the elderly, pregnant, and immune-suppressed may be more susceptible to getting foodborne illness. Don’t take risks with their health by serving potentially dangerous foods such as raw eggs, raw fish, undercooked poultry, or rare ground beef. Think about alternative foods or recipes that may be safer.

Just because it’s a holiday and your refrigerator is full does not mean that the “two-hour rule” isn’t in effect. Food should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Two hours is enough time for bacteria to multiply to the quantity that could cause foodborne illnesses. This is cumulative too. If you leave the leftovers on the dining room table for one hour, then later leave them out on the counter for 30 minutes to make sandwiches, you will only have a half-hour window left.

On New Year’s Eve, many parties start in the early evening and don’t end until well after the New Year. That could be four or five hours and way past the safe time for leaving that food set out at room temperature.  If you can’t keep cold foods below 41 degree F or hot foods above 135 degrees F, plan to replace them with fresh at least every two hours.

Here are a few other basic things to keep in mind:

  • Wash your hands frequently when preparing and serving food.
  • Get food into the refrigerator as soon as possible after a meal. Don’t leave it out for guests coming later or to make sandwiches.
  • Don’t put potentially-hazardous food in the garage, porch or sunroom.  While these areas may feel cool, they may not keep food below 41 degrees F. Some cut fruits and vegetables (including sliced tomatoes, leafy greens and melons) fall into this category, too.
  • Use small serving dishes on buffet lines. When that dish is empty, then replace it with another small dish of the same food instead of setting out the entire bowl or mixing “fresh” food in with the “old.”
  • Take care with desserts that contain potentially hazardous foods such as whipped cream, custards, creamy cheeses, and eggs. Keep these foods in the refrigerator below 41 degrees.

A little care and planning ahead can make this a food-safe holiday season.  You want the memories to be of happy times and not of a foodborne illness or trip to the emergency room.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Summer Food Safety Tips

Be Safe at Summer Picnics!

The temperatures are creeping up outside, and this nice weather means that lots of people will want to have outdoor barbecues, picnics, and pot lucks. These can be a total blast, but I often worry about the extra food safety concerns that accompany these rising temperatures.

Here’s what you and your clients can do to combat foodborne illness this summer…

  • Remember, the “two hour rule” changes to the “one hour rule” when temperatures creep up above 90 degrees F.
    • This means that you should not allow food to sit out at room temperature for longer than one hour.
    • Hot temperatures are just right for allowing the bacteria in food to multiply to numbers that could make people sick. This includes foods on picnic tables, buffet lines at family reunions, and bag lunches.
  • Double check the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer.
    • Refrigerators should be below 40 degrees F and freezers below zero.
    • This helps to prolong the life and the quality of the food.
  • Put a cooler and some ice blocks in the trunk of your car when you go grocery shopping.
    • Even 20 minutes in a hot car eats into that “one hour” rule.
    • Refrigerate all perishable foods immediately upon getting home.
  • When doing errands, make the grocery store your last stop.
    • Pick up frozen and refrigerated foods just before you hit the checkout lines.
  • If you’re going to a farmers’ market, farm stand, or pick-your-own field, take a cooler along too. Don’t store fresh produce in the trunk of your car.
  • If you don’t finish your meal at a restaurant, make sure there’s a cooler in the car for any food you bring home. The “one hour rule” goes into effect here too!
  • Don’t get careless with picnics and other outdoor food events. Unless you are absolutely sure about the safety of the food, throw away any leftovers.

Living can be easy in the summertime, but food safety takes a little more effort and planning. Have a wonderful and food-safe summer!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

At the Nutrition Education Store, we’re here to help you look your very best, right now! Check out these bestselling summer resources…

Food Safety Presentation: PowerPoint and Handout Set

How Much Fat is in That? Poster

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Thank you for scrolling all the way through today’s post! Here’s a free handout with the top summer food safety tips!

Summer Food Safety

19 Pot Luck Food Safety Tips

Over the years I’ve been invited to speak at many meetings and events. Quite often these occasions include food. Frequently, it’s a potluck affair. I’m usually invited to join them for a meal after the program, but I must confess that I often decline.

Pot Luck Danger ZoneWhy?

Well, let’s start with the type of meal the groups are putting together. Potlucks can go by many names — carry-in dinners, pass-a-dish, potlucks, or covered dishes. No matter what you call them, potlucks are scary. It all comes down to foodborne illness.

According to the CDC, every year 1 in 6 Americans gets sick after consuming a contaminated food or beverage. These illnesses are largely preventable with proper food safety, yet potlucks are where food safety strategies often break down. Foods sit out for far too long at the wrong temperature, and people can easily contaminate a dish by grabbing a serving with their hands or double-dipping. When I can, I avoid potlucks or turn them into “teachable moments.”

So is a pot luck in your future? If it is, here are a few dos and don’ts for a food-safe event:

  • Do remember the “two hour rule.” Any potentially-hazardous foods (dairy, meat, fish, cooked vegetables, rice, or chopped/sliced fruits and vegetables) that have sat out at room temperature for more than two hours should not be eaten. If the room temperature is more than 90 degrees, make it a “one hour rule.”
  • Do have a plan for keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot food should be kept over 140 degrees and cold food should be kept under 40 degrees. If the situation does not allow for temperature control of the food, consider taking (and eating) foods that are less risky. Think bread, chips, nuts, dried fruits, cookies, pretzels, or washed whole fruit.
  • Do consider transportation before you decide on what you’re taking. Can you keep it hot or cold while getting it to the event? Count the transportation time in the “two hour rule.”
  • Don’t forget to wash your hands. When preparing foods for an event, take extra care at home to keep things clean and safe. Be sure to wash your hands before cooking. Plus, if there are animals in your home, keep them away from the food and preparation area.
  • Label It AllDon’t prepare food for other people if you’re sick. If you’ve had the sniffles, vomiting, or diarrhea in the past few days, then don’t cook!
  • Don’t partially cook food at home to finish at the pot luck. The best method would be to completely cook all potentially-hazardous foods at the meal site.
  • Don’t prepare foods the day before with the intent of reheating in a slow cooker. Completely cooking the food on the day of the event eliminates the risky cooling and reheating steps.
  • Do use enough ice. If you’re using coolers to keep food cold, make sure to have enough ice to keep the foods below 40 degrees.
  • Don’t use slow cookers to reheat leftovers. This is too slow. If you’re using a slow cooker to keep the food hot, reheat the food to 165 degrees and then put it in the slow cooker.
  • Don’t use warming trays to cook or reheat food. These appliances are not designed for this purpose.
  • Don’t wait to eat. If facilities are not available to keep the food at the correct temperature, don’t wait until the speaker is done or the “short” business meeting is over to eat.
  • Do encourage people to label and describe their food items. This will help with possible food allergies, and also will keep people from smelling or touching the foods with their hands, taking just a little taste in line to see what it is.
  • Wrap It UpDo remember to have tongs or other serving utensils available. This will help people avoid using their fingers or “double dipping.”
  • Do encourage the use of paper plates and/or clean plates for “seconds” and desserts.
  • Do refrigerate leftovers ASAP. Break large items into smaller portions so that they will cool more quickly. Don’t wait for the speaker to be done or the meeting to be over before cleaning up.
  • Do remember plastic wrap or zip-top bags to allow for quick clean-up and refrigerator storage.
  • Don’t take leftovers home. This could be risky. Not only has the food sat out at room temperatures for a long time, there is potential contamination from the many people passing through the buffet line.
  • Do throw away any leftovers that you are not sure about. All potentially-hazardous leftovers should be discarded.
  • Do remember the garbage. Bring extra garbage bags. Prevent potential contamination by keeping the garbage away from the food preparation and serving areas.

Here’s a handout with the top potluck tips. Feel free to share it with your clients!

Pot Luck Food Safety

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS,  Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

And of course, there are plenty of food safety educational materials available in the Nutrition Education Store. Check out these top sellers!

Food Safety Temperature Guide

Food Safety PowerPoint and Handout Set

4 Steps to Food Safety Poster

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! The Nutrition Education Store just got a lot of new products up and running. I’m sure that you will find something that will make your job easier. Here are a few favorites so far…

Elementary Nutrition Workbook

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