Elizabeth S. Reames, Purvis, Trace
Cooks across Louisiana are now making their grocery lists and checking them twice in preparation for those holiday meals. An LSU AgCenter nutritionist says food safety should be high on the list while those preparations are being made.
"Great ingredients and recipes are some of the concerns in planning for your holiday menus, but food safety should be equally important," LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says.
Some of the biggest concerns are keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, avoiding "cross contamination" of raw and cooked foods and storing food appropriately, Reames explains.
To limit the risk of foodborne illnesses, the LSU AgCenter nutritionist also offers follow these tips.
Planning for Food Safety
–Purchase fresh meat products no more than one or two days before the holiday meal. For longer storage, freeze them.
–Thaw frozen meat products in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours thawing time for each 5 pounds of weight.
–If freezing is not an option, prepare perishable foods no more than one day before a meal. For example, assemble a casserole one day in advance. Refrigerate and then bake it the day of your dinner. Allow an extra 15 minutes to 20 minutes cooking time for the refrigerated casserole.
–You also can cut up fruits and vegetables for salads or relish trays one day before your meal. Just be sure to place them in covered storage containers or plastic bags on shelves that are above any raw meat you are storing in the refrigerator.
–Keep cold foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and hot foods at 140 F or higher. Do not leave perishable foods at room temperature for longer than two hours, including preparation, serving and travel time.
–Keep hot foods hot by using slow cookers and warming trays.
–Keep cold foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.
–Check the internal temperature of foods with a clean food thermometer to ensure they are being held at a safe temperature. Wash the thermometer with hot, soapy water after each use.
–Use small bowls or trays that will hold about the number of servings that will be eaten in 30 minutes or less. Avoid adding fresh servings to perishable foods that have been sitting out.
–If you need to transport food, keep hot foods hot by carrying them in insulated containers. If such containers are not available, wrap what you have in foil and heavy towels.
–Likewise, place cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs.
–On arrival, place cold foods in a refrigerator and hot foods in an oven to maintain their temperatures.
–If traveling a long distance, consider bringing uncut fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, rolls, breads or cookies. These items will not likely spoil during the trip.
–Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Cool hot foods in shallow containers that are no more than 2 inches deep. Cover loosely for faster cooling. Then cover tightly after foods are cool.
–Eat unfrozen leftovers within two days. Reheat foods intended to be hot to 165 F or higher before eating.
–For longer storage, freeze leftovers. Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in a microwave oven. If food is thawed in a microwave oven, continue to heat it until it is fully cooked.