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Food Safety Helps Keep Holiday Events Healthy

by Ms. Bonnie A. Coblentz, MSU Extension Service

Important steps in keeping food safe to eat at holiday gatherings is to make sure hot foods stay hot and cold food stay cold. Chill and store leftovers properly before reheating to 160 degrees to eat. (Photo by Canstock/PixelsAway)

While Thanksgiving is an obvious food holiday, Christmas also brings numerous opportunities to celebrate with food, and every one of these should be done with care to keep guests healthy.

Byron Williams, state food processing specialists with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said safety is always a concern any time food is prepared, but it can become a bigger issue when there are lots of leftovers.

“Proper preparations, handling, cooking and leftover precautions are critical steps in food safety at any time, but especially with larger quantities, groups and extended time being spent around the table or with food available while visiting with family and friends,” Williams said.

Hand washing is one of the most important steps in food safety. It comes at the very beginning of the process, but Williams said it is often ignored.

“A recently completed survey of home meal preparers across the U.S. conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety division found that 97% of the survey participants did not attempt to wash their hands during meal prep to prevent cross-contamination,” he said. “Of those who tried, 95% failed to wash their hands properly.”

Proper handwashing before, during and after handling food, especially after handling raw products and before handling cooked or ready-to-eat items, is vital. Proper handwashing means wetting hands with warm water, applying soap and lathering for a minimum of 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub all parts of the hands and fingers, rinse well with warm water and then dry hands thoroughly.

Some people are beginning to understand they should not wash raw meat before cooking it, but many don’t know why this is recommended.

“Washing raw meat only increases the chances of spreading harmful bacteria to other surfaces or foods in the sink and kitchen area,” Williams said. “Be sure to wash hands thoroughly and sanitize any utensils that contacted raw meat, poultry or fish before touching anything else.”

Avoid cross-contamination by keeping ready-to-eat foods, such as raw vegetables, separate from raw meat, fish and poultry.

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