By Nikki Honosky, WVSU Extension Associate
With Thanksgiving having come and gone, the winter holiday season begins. It’s that festive time of year where everyone looks forward to the upcoming celebrations. One of the things that people look forward to and associate with the holidays are the big festive dinners. Usually these dinners take a lot of prep work and time in order to have everything ready by the time guests usually arrive. This makes it important that when cooking for the holiday season to practice food safety.
Food safety is something that should be followed year round and not just something to consider doing during the holiday season. One of the easiest things that you can do when preparing food is to wash your hands with soap and water. Washing your hands helps to prevent the spread of germs and any possible food contamination that might occur. Washing your hands is the simplest, easiest thing that you can do that can help with food safety.
Another thing that you can do is to keep your foods separated. Keep your meat, poultry, and eggs separate from any other food in your refrigerator. Keep your meat and poultry in containers or sealed bags in order to prevent any leakage, which can contaminate other foods. Eggs need to be kept in their original carton as well.
One of the main staples of any holiday dinner is the centerpiece, which can be anything ranging from turkey, ham, lamb, or more. Whatever you decide upon, make sure that you safely thaw it out. You can do this in a refrigerator, microwave, or in a sink of cold water. If you do it in the sink, make sure to change the water every so often. Avoid just leaving it on a counter to defrost. These methods help the meat thaw at a safe enough temperature in order to prevent any harmful germs from growing.
Once your food has thawed, make sure that the food is cooked thoroughly. You want to do this because things like meat and poultry can carry germs that can cause food poisoning if not cooked properly. When cooking, something that is extremely helpful is a food thermometer. The thermometer can help you ensure whatever you cooked has reached a safe internal temperature. Some food that you cook, like ham for example, should be allowed to rest for a handful of minutes after being removed from the oven before being eaten.
If you’re fixing any dish that requires eggs, make sure that the eggs are pasteurized and not raw. Pasteurized eggs aren’t that different from normal eggs. The main difference is that pasteurized eggs have been put through a process, where the eggs are heated in their shells at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time needed to kill any bacteria that might be in the egg. This can help prevent any harmful germs from being in your food. Normal looking eggs can have harmful germs like salmonella that can be living on both the outside and inside of the egg. Both kinds of eggs should be available at stores. This bit of food safety can be especially important because many holiday favorites include raw eggs. Some of those dishes include egg nog, sauces, dressings, and more.
A bit of a continuation about the eggs is that you shouldn’t eat any raw dough or batter that includes raw eggs. This especially pertains to many dessert dishes such as cakes, pies, cookies, and more.
Once you have cooked any food, make sure that it is kept at the recommended temperature. If it needs to remain heated, make sure that it stays warm and if it needs to stay cooled, refrigerate it. This helps to prevent any bacteria that can grow rapidly at room temperature. If you have any perishable food, make sure that you refrigerate it within two hours.
You can easily learn more about this by doing research on the Internet or by asking those that have experience with food safety. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the WVSU Extension Office at the Welch Armory. I am available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Feel free to give me a call at (304) 320-5446.