The holidays provide the perfect opportunity to create a family feast.  But cooking a big meal comes with some risks.  If you are not careful, bacteria and other organisms may contaminate your meal.  This can lead to food poisoning and other food-related illnesses.

Fortunately, there are simple precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family.  Many common food-related illness organisms (e. coli, salmonella, listeria) can be killed by following basic food safety practices.

Here are four tips for healthy food handling:

CLEAN

This may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget the importance of keeping your kitchen clean.  Before you start, clean counter surfaces with hot, soapy water and wipe them down with paper towels or clean cloths, if using cloth towels, make sure to wash them regularly on your washing machine’s hot cycle. 

Wash hands, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards with hot, soapy water.  Be sure to do this before and after you prepare each item of your meal.  Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables before cutting them.  Simply hold the items under running water for at least 10 seconds. You do not need to use soap or chemicals, and dry with a paper towel.  You don’t need to wash raw meat or poultry since washing these items may actually spread bacteria to the rest of your kitchen.

SEPARATE

Bacteria found on raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread bacteria to other foods.  This s called cross-contamination, and you can only avoid it by keeping food separated.  Use separate cutting boards to keep foods apart: one for meat, another for poultry, and another for fruits and veggies.  Only combine foods once you are ready to cook them.  Remember to wash hands after handling raw meats.

COOK

Even though certain food might “look” done, it is important to test the temperature before serving them.  The CDC recommends cooking these meats to a specific temperature:

  • Whole meats should reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees F
  • Ground meats must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F
  • Poultry must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F

It is also important to take care of how you thaw meat.  Never leave frozen meat sitting on a counter to thaw at room temperature since this increases bacteria production.  Meat can be safely thawed in cold water, in the refrigerator, or in the microwave.

CHILL

If you are making a large meal, you will likely need to store various items in your refrigerator.  To keep foods safe, make sure that your refrigerator is at 40 degrees F and that all items are stored with a lid or plastic wrap over openings.  Bacteria can start multiplying on unrefrigerated food in as little as 2 hours, place items that need to be kept cold promptly in the refrigerator.