Don't be a turkey about food safety this season.
Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
Cooks across the country are making plans for holiday feasts that include everyone's favorite dishes, from cornbread stuffing to pumpkin pie. Friends and families are invited, and excitement is in the air. Food safety is probably not the first thing you think about when planning a holiday dinner. But to keep your gathering from being memorable in the wrong way, it's important to take steps to protect your guests from food-borne illnesses.
While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, some 76 million people get sick from food-borne illness every year, according to the CDC. And food safety can be a special challenge during the holidays. Not only is it cold and flu season, but the menu may includes more dishes than there is room for in the refrigerator or oven.
"It takes skill, timing and organization to pull off a healthy holiday meal with all the dishes that need to be kept at proper temperature so bacteria won't have a chance to grow," says food safety expert Missy Cody, PhD, RD, head of the nutrition division at Georgia State University.
Further, most guest lists include people who are especially vulnerable to food borne illness -- older people, young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system. And your menu may include food offerings from friends and relatives that have traveled for hours or have been kept at room temperature for extended time. ("Advise your guests to put piping hot food into a container before they leave home and when they arrive, be sure to refrigerate promptly or reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit," says Cody.)
To make sure your holiday dinner is not only delicious but as safe as possible, WebMD asked the experts for their best holiday food safety tips. Here are their top 10 suggestions:
- Have a master plan. Chefs do it, and so should you. Consider your refrigerator, freezer and oven space, and how you'll manage to keep hot foods at 140 degrees or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees or below. If you need to use coolers, make sure you have plenty of clean ice and check it frequently to be sure the ice hasn't melted. "Whatever you do, don't rely on the natural outdoor temperature on the porch to keep foods at proper temperature" says Cody.
- Cook to proper temperature -- and use a thermometer. There is simply no other way to determine that food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. "Turkeys, stuffing, side dishes, and all leftovers should be cooked to at least 165 degrees and kept above 140 degrees during serving to be sure that any potential bacteria is destroyed," says Karen Blakeslee, MS, of the Kansas State University Food Science Institute. "Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold."
Be egg-stra careful with eggs. Many eggnog recipes call for uncooked eggs, but Marcia Greenblum, RD, MS, of the Egg Nutrition Center says "to be perfectly safe, you need to use pasteurized eggs or cook the eggs yolks lightly with the sugar (recipe below) to be sure you kill any potential salmonella bacteria." She also advises that eggs be kept refrigerated until ready for use and always cook egg products to 160 degrees. See below for a recipe for cooked eggnog.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal one serving as 1 cup 1% milk.
6 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 quart 1% milk, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
- In large saucepan, beat together eggs, sugar and salt, if desired.
- Stir in 2 cups of the milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon with a thin film and reaches at least 160 degrees.
- Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2 cups milk, and vanilla.
- Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight. Just before serving, pour into bowl or pitcher.
- Garnish with nutmeg, if desired. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 88 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 29 calories from fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 119 mg sodium, 154 mg potassium, 9 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein.
Yield: 12 servings
Recipe reprinted with permission from the American Egg Board.
SOURCES: Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD, director, nutrition and food safety, Egg Nutrition Center. Missy Cody, PhD, RD, head of the Division of Nutrition, Georgia State University. Karen Blakeslee, MS, food scientist, Food Science Institute, Kansas State University. CDC. Partnership for Food Safety Education web site: "Safe Food Handling."
Reviewed on November 14, 2007
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