The holidays often appear to be all about shopping, but food plays a major role.
To keep people from getting unnecessarily sick during Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve or other festive occasions, the Food Safety and Inspection Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering the folks who prepare and serve the food the FoodKeeper app for smartphones and tablets. No one wants to make mistakes preparing holiday mainstays that include meats, poultry and eggs.
The FoodKeeper app first will enable cooks to evaluate food in the refrigerator and pantry to determine whether the stuff is still good. Fresh ingredients are always best so don’t even think of pulling out ingredients that was OK at last year’s gathering.
In case you do, FoodKeeper gives storage advice on more than 400 different food and beverage items and can help people decide what to keep and what to toss. The guidance includes what to do with leftovers.
The Food Safety Inspection Service advice for that holiday roast:
▪ Reuse isn’t a good idea. Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid contaminating the finished product.
▪ Cleanliness is best. Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place the items in a dishwasher.
▪ Don’t overcook. To avoid overcooking beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts use a meat thermometer. These roasts should be removed from the oven when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed to rest for 3 minutes before serving.
▪ Birds are different. Turkey, duck and goose should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a food thermometer. Temperatures should be taken in three areas of the bird: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh.
Safety tips for holiday buffets:
▪ The right tools matter. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold by using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold items should remain below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Your guests will love the fresh sense the right temperature provides.
▪ Don’t get stingy with dishes. Use several small plates when serving food.
▪ Do what old-style cooks might consider unthinkable. Discard perishable foods left out for two hours or more.
▪ Tomorrow’s meals? Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen immediately in shallow containers or given to family and friends to take home. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
▪ Go the extra mile. If you’re transporting pre-cooked food to a holiday get together, keep cold foods safe on the way there by placing items in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep them at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re transporting hot foods, wrap dishes in insulated bags or towels and newspaper to keep their temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Utilitarian holiday gift-giving, but duck if it pisses off the recipient who was expecting something frilly:
▪ A food thermometer is a useful tool for even the most experienced cook as it is the only way to ensure that meat is fully cooked.
▪ More cutting boards are useful for raw meat and give a separate cutting board as a gift for ready-to-eat food. This is a great way to prevent cross-contamination.
▪ Kitchen towels should be washed frequently to avoid cross-contamination. Home cooks can never have enough kitchen towels.
Unless it’s a liquor-laden fruit cake, mail-delivered holiday food deserves special handling:
▪ Check with the mail delivery company to ensure it sends perishable items such as meat and poultry cold or frozen, and pack the item with a cold source like dry ice.
▪ Foods should be packaged in a foam or heavy corrugated cardboard container.
▪ Don’t cut corners. Delivery should occur as quickly as possible — ideally, overnight.
▪ Foods should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold — below 40 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a food thermometer.
People who want to know more can go to Foodsafety.gov and follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter. Cooks with questions can call the Agriculture Department Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.