Handle and prepare foods properly to avoid getting sick this holiday season

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RBC | Troy Huffman, retail food program coordinator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability, wants to remind Coloradans to keep their family and friends safe from foodborne illness this holiday season.

“The most frequent causes of foodborne illnesses are from foods kept at unsafe temperatures, inadequate hand washing, inappropriate food handling, and preparing and serving foods on soiled surfaces or with contaminated utensils,” Huffman said. “Other causes include cooking foods such as eggs, poultry and meats below the proper temperature. By following simple food safety guidelines, holiday parties and meals will be safe and enjoyable for all.”

He provided the following tips for keeping foods safe:

– Cool all leftovers to 41 degrees F or lower within four hours after cooking is complete. Do not leave foods containing meat, dairy, eggs, fish or poultry out at room temperature for more than the four-hour limit. This includes casseroles and pumpkin or other custard pies that are popular during the holidays.

– Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water before food preparation, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing, eating, drinking or smoking. Also, wash hands after handling raw meat, eggs, fish or poultry.

Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops. Minimize cross-contamination risks by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing knives, cutting boards and other utensils before and after preparing foods, particularly between the preparation of raw meat and foods that will not be further cooked. A sanitizing solution can be easily prepared using two teaspoons of unscented bleach per gallon.

– Buy a cooking thermometer and use it. Turkey and stuffing should be cooked thoroughly and separately to 165 F and ham to 145 F or above before serving. Recipes requiring eggs must be cooked thoroughly to 145 F or above. If egg dishes do not require cooking, such as homemade eggnog or salad dressing, use pasteurized egg products instead of shelled eggs.

– Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Plan enough time to thaw food in the refrigerator, placing food items on a tray to catch any juices that may leak from the original packaging to avoid cross-contamination of other foods. The number of days a frozen turkey takes to thaw in a refrigerator depends on the size. A turkey 4-12 pounds takes one to three days to thaw; 12-16 pounds takes three to four days; 16-20 pounds takes four to five days; and 20-24 pounds takes five to six days.

– To avoid spreading illness to others sharing a meal, do not prepare or handle foods if ill.

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