Safe Food Handling Practices During The Holidays

By:    Published: November 21, 2012

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‘Tis the season to indulge in holiday foods. The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without sweet treats, savory meats and gift baskets full of goodies. Whether you’re cooking the big holiday meal or are sending your loved ones a homemade cheesecake, it’s important to practice and be aware of the safest ways to handle your food during the holidays.

Mail Order Food

During the holiday months, the home shopping channels have hours of airtime that display delectable delicacies for the holiday season. It can be very tempting to order these foods, either from those channels or online. If you do, you need to know how it’ll be shipped and what to look for when the food arrives. Here are some tips on how your food should be packaged, per the USDA:

  • If you’ve ordered meat, poultry or other perishable food items, it should be packed in dry ice or some other cold source. It also should be shipped in a foam or corrugated cardboard box.
  • Food, especially perishable food, should be sent out to you quickly – overnight, if possible.
  • Make sure the box or outer packaging is labeled “Keep Refrigerated.” If it is, open the package immediately and check the temperature of the food. It should be fully frozen or at least partially frozen with ice crystals clearly visible on the food.
  • If you have any concerns about the food’s temperature, check it with a food thermometer. If the temperature is above 40 degrees or if the food does arrive warm, notify the food company and do not eat the food.

If you receive any food during the holidays that you feel is suspicious or wasn’t packaged properly, do not eat it. It’s not worth the risk.

Sending Food To Others

Everyone appreciates a homemade gift, especially if it’s food. It’s always nice to send others a care package or some treats during the holidays. And if you’re traveling, it’s easier to ship any food you want to bring with you ahead of time. No matter what the reason is, if you’re the person doing the shipping, here’s what you need to do:

  • The rules for shipping your own food are still the same as the rules listed above. If the food is perishable, pack it in dry ice or with another cold source and ship it in a foam box or a thick corrugated cardboard box.
  • Mark the box with “Keep Refrigerated,” and alert the post office or shipping company that your package contains perishable food.
  • If you’re ordering food online or through a home shopping channel, but are having it delivered to someone else, let that person know what the expected delivery date is. Or at least notify them that a perishable gift is on its way.
  • Don’t ship items to an office unless you know someone will be able to receive it and that there will be a refrigerator and enough space in it to keep the food cold.
  • Don’t ship food items at the end of the week as they’ll sit in the warehouse over the weekend. Send food at the beginning of the week instead.

Cooking The Big Holiday Meal

Even if you aren’t giving or receiving food for the holidays, there’s still special precautions you need to take if you’ll be cooking the big holiday meal, or at least have a hand in making it. If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure that you handle the food properly so that foodborne bacteria doesn’t crash your party. This type of bacteria is tough to detect; it has no taste or smell. So in order to avoid spoiling your loved ones’ holiday with food poisoning, follow these food safety tips:

  • Wash your hands often during cooking and use separate utensils, cutting boards, plates, etc. for each of your different types of food so you don’t cross-contaminate.
  • Cook all raw meats to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Check the food’s internal temperature often with a food thermometer.
  • If you want to cook some of the food ahead of time, place it in small, shallow containers so it will cool rapidly in the refrigerator. When you reheat the food, make sure it reaches at least 165 degrees.
  • If you’re putting out platters of fruits and veggies, or meats and cheeses, arrange the food on small platters and refill them when necessary. Store the leftovers in the oven or fridge until needed, that way all of the food will stay at the proper temperature.
  • If you see an empty tray on the buffet table, swipe it from the table and replace it with a new tray. Many people were eating off of that original platter, meaning germs may have been spread from mouths and hands to the plate. That’s not a plate you want to refill with food.
  • Keep track of how long the foods have been sitting out. If they’ve been on the table for two hours or more, it’s time to put them away.
  • Use chafing dishes, plate warmers and slow cookers to keep your hot foods hot. Use bowls of ice to keep your cold foods cold.

Food is a staple of the holiday season, one that everyone looks forward to during that time of year. So whether you’re giving or receiving it as a gift or are serving the holiday meal, make sure you follow the proper food safety practices.

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